Former chief election commissioners call for EC reforms, model code overhaul | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Former chief election commissioners call for EC reforms, model code overhaul

May 25, 2024 02:17 PM IST

The MCC is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission for political parties, candidates and governments to follow during an election.

Has the Election Commission become a pale shadow of its former self? Some, including former chief election commissioners, are making a strong case for changes to help the EC maintain its authority.

The MCC is a self-regulatory framework borne out of political consensus rather than statutory enactment. (File Photo)
The MCC is a self-regulatory framework borne out of political consensus rather than statutory enactment. (File Photo)

Consider this, says one former CEC: In 2012, the then prime minister Manmohan Singh sought the Election Commission’s permission before visiting the Golden Temple at Amritsar during the Punjab assembly elections. Over a decade later, the situation seems to be much different. Live Updates on the Lok Sabha elections 2024

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On April 21, at a rally in Rajasthan's Banswara, Modi said the Congress, if voted to power, would distribute the country’s wealth to “infiltrators” and “those who have more children”. The Congress alleged that Modi was creating a divide between Hindus and Muslims. Full coverage of Lok Sabha polls 2024

The EC took action only four days later, issuing notices to the BJP and Congress presidents on April 25 on complaints against the Prime Minister by the Opposition and against Rahul Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge by the ruling party. While the EC did not name Modi or Gandhi, it asked JP Nadda and Kharge for their “comments” on alleged Model Code of Conduct violations by “star campaigners”.

Nearly a month later, on May 22, the Election Commission directed BJP star campaigners not to make communal speeches and those of the Opposition party to refrain from saying the Constitution may be abolished if the BJP returns to power.

Former chief election commissioner Ashok Lavasa told this reporter: “It is a straightforward case. When constitutional authorities receive a complaint, they are duty-bound to act on it. Regarding hate speech at Banswara, they sent notices to the BJP,not to the Prime Minister. Without taking names or referring to designations, it may not be a bad idea to include the party without exempting the individual.”

When asked how he would have tackled the situation, another former CEC SY Quraishi said the impact would have been salutary even if the EC had merely banned the Prime Minister from campaigning for three days after his speech.

“In my time, we charge-sheeted four ministers for campaign infringements, and the government of the day did not react adversely," he told this reporter.

In some cases, the EC has taken strict action, but these involve minor leaders. On May 21, it “strongly censured” retired Calcutta high court judge and BJP Lok Sabha candidate from West Bengal’s Tamluk constituency, Abhijit Gangopadhyay, and barred him from all campaigning for 24 hours after his[ remarks about chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

Lavasa said: “If there’s a loss of trust in the Election Commission, it is a matter of concern. It is incumbent upon the Election Commission to invoke the relevant law and act, where needed. The Election Commissioners are not officers of the government but constitutional authorities. They act within the provisions of the Constitution and laws framed by the Parliament and their own regulations.”

Under a strict interpretation of the law, the EC is answerable to the Constitution. It is a constitutional body that works independently. It is not answerable to the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha or the office of the President. It is, however, responsible for the Constitution of India, which mentions it in Article 324. In this context, the Parliament enacted the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1950 and Representation of the People Act,1951, the two main shields of the poll body.

According to Quraishi, “The Constitution of India has given the EC spine. Times have changed. They must know how to use their power. FIRs should be filed because the law is equal for all citizens. In the Model Code of Conduct, the EC is the umpire, and it needs to act.”

Another former CEC, TS Krishnamurthy, too is convinced that electoral reforms is the crying need of the hour, even as he says that the EC has become the subject of too much criticism, which is not justified.

“Four reforms must be considered mandatory. There is need for separate law for political parties; the first-past-the-post system needs to be done away with; there is need for a National Fund to contest elections and criminal elements must be weeded out with immediate effect,” he said.

A strong votary of changes in the Model Code of Conduct, Krishnamurthy is convinced that the Election Commission needs the power to disqualify candidates if the infringements get too glaring. Merely passing strictures will not suffice.

“Violence and hate speech cannot be condoned and political parties have to be made accountable,” he told this reporter.

Lavasa also believes the time for reforming the MCC is at hand. “I certainly believe that the Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct needs to be reviewed comprehensively under the changed circumstances. It is an evolving document, and you learn with every experience. It needs a drastic overhaul.”

The MCC is a self-regulatory framework borne out of political consensus rather than statutory enactment. It is a set of guidelines issued by the EC for political parties, candidates and governments to follow during an election.

N Gopalaswami, India’s 15th CEC, said: “If political parties want reform, they can suggest changes in the Model Code of Conduct. Where is the problem? I have held the position, so I know the difficulties that go with the office.’’

According to him, “it is all very well to pass judgement on the EC, but many people do not even have an idea of the kind of pressures the Commissioners have to work under. The coordination, monitoring, and the sheer scale of holding an election in a country as large and diverse as India, from the most populated urban settlements to the remotest outposts, is a job that has been hailed not just in India, but across the world by experts.”

Krishnamurthy recalled his time as CEC when a chief minister used an IAF plane to campaign in his own state but switched to a car the moment he entered a neighbouring state for fear of defying the Model Code of Conduct.

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