And yet another letter from the Election Commission of India (EC)! The EC on Sunday wrote to the presidents/general secretaries of all recognized national and state political parties, "requesting them to observe the model code of conduct in letter and in spirit."The tone and tenor of the letter (http://eci.nic.in/cp2009/req.pdf ) however, sounds more like an order than a request, with the EC directing political parties to not indulge in a range of activities, including aggravating differences or creating mutual hatred, making personal attacks on other politicians etc.
On a rather emotional note, the letter says, "The Commission is
Poor EC. Look at the pain and anguish it has to go through because of the wayward activities of political leaders and parties!
On a more serious note, is the EC taking this "pain" up on itself, unnecessarily? This letter is just another in the slew of written communications the commission constantly keeps sending out to politicians and parties, in the form of notices or ‘advice' or mere reprimands, making most political parties grumble about the EC's unwarranted interference and dictatorial attitude. The EC is now being accused of crossing its lines, particularly after its advice to the BJP to not field Varun Gandhi as a candidate after his vitriolic anti-minority speech.
Personally, my sympathies lie with the commission. One, it has been entrusted with the task of enforcing a code that does not have a legal or statutory status - a rather unenviable position to be in, as I have argued in my earlier blog posts. This ambiguity about its scope and legal authority has put the commission on the defensive, forcing it to be active in tracking and chiding political parties/leaders. Its ‘slap on the wrist' policy is its way of enforcing its authority, though in a limited way.
Two, if the EC is indeed transgressing its scope, political parties are equally to be blamed. When an opponent violates the code of conduct in their view, parties rush to the commission to complain and expect it to censure the opponent. If we look at all the code violation notices issues by the commission since elections were notified, it would become clear that most were based on complaints made by other political parties and very few were in fact taken up suo moto by the commission.
Take some recent ones. The notice to BJP leader Jaswant Singh, alleging him of distributing money during an election rally, was based on a complaint filed by the Rajasthan state Congress. It was after Maneka Gandhi filed a written complaint against Lalu Yadav for making derogatory remarks against her son Varun Gandhi that the EC issued Yadav a notice.
So clearly, political parties want to use EC as a tool against their opponents and yet complain when they themselves invite the commission's ire. When the commission issues notices to your opponents, it is its duty to do so. But a notice to you, and the commission is crossing its lines. Slightly unfair, isn't it?
Anyway, that is what political parties are best at - opportunistic behaviour. So the EC should just ignore all accusations against it and continue trying to protect the code of conduct, which incidentally, has been evolved with the consensus of political parties themselves.