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Lok Sabha election 2019: Model code of conduct now in force: What it means

The model code of conduct starts as soon as polls to either state assemblies or the Lok Sabha are announced by the Election Commission and is enforced by the poll watchdog.

lok sabha elections Updated: Mar 10, 2019 19:53 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Lok Sabha Election 2019,Election News,General Election 2019
The model code of conduct starts as soon as polls to either state assemblies or the Lok Sabha are announced by the Election Commission and is enforced by the poll watchdog.(HT file photo)

The model code of conduct for Lok Sabha elelctions 2019 will kick in after the Election Commission announces the dates for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections today. It is a set of instructions and guidelines to be followed by political parties and candidates contesting elections for the conduct free and fair polls.

It is enforced by the Election Commission of India and comes into effect as soon as polls to either state assemblies or the Lok Sabha are announced by the watchdog.

Here is all you need to know about the model code of conduct:

What is the model code of conduct?

The model code is a set of norms laid down by the Election Commission of India, with the consensus of political parties. It spells out the dos and don’ts to be followed by political parties, candidates and polling agents during the election procedure. They are expected to observe these guidelines on the content of election manifestos, their speeches and processions and overall general conduct.

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When was it introduced? How did it evolve?

It was introduced during the assembly elections in Kerala in 1960 as a small set of dos and don’ts. The EC circulated the code to all recognised parties during the simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and assemblies in several states in 1962 and the state governments were requested to secure the acceptance of the code by the parties.

In 1967, the code was followed in the Lok Sabha and assembly elections.

In 1968, the Election Commission held meetings with political parties at the state level and circulated the code of conduct to observe a minimum standard of behaviour to ensure free and fair elections.

In 1971-72, during the general election to the House of the people/state legislative assemblies, the commission circulated the code again.

At the time of elections to some assemblies in 1974, the commission issued the code of conduct to the political parties in those states.

The commission also suggested constituting committees at district level headed by the district collector and comprising representatives of political parties as members for considering cases of violation of the code and ensuring its compliance by all parties and candidates.

For the Lok Sabha election in 1977, the code was again circulated to the political parties.

In 1979, the Election Commission, in consultation with the political parties changed the code again and added a new section placing restrictions on the “party in power” to prevent cases of abuse of a position of power to get an undue advantage over other parties and candidates.

In 1991, the code was consolidated and re-issued in its present form.

In 2013, the Supreme Court directed the Election Commission to include guidelines regarding election manifestos, which it has included in the code for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

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When is the code enforced?

The code comes into force as soon as the EC announces the poll schedule and remains operational until the process is concluded, as provided in the notification. It is also applicable to a “caretaker” government on the premature dissolution of a state assembly.

How is it enforced?

The poll body ensures that ruling parties at the Centre and in states follow the code, as part of its mandate to conduct free and fair elections under Article 324 of the Constitution.

In case of electoral offences, malpractices and corrupt practices like inducements to voters, bribery, intimidation or any undue influence, the EC takes action against violators.

Anyone can report the violations to the commission or approach a court. The EC has devised several mechanisms to take note of the offences, which include joint task forces of enforcement agencies and flying squads. The introduction of the cVIGIL mobile app through which audio-visual evidence of malpractices can be reported is the latest step.

What are the key provisions of the model code of conduct?

It has eight provisions dealing with general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day, polling booths, observers, the party in power, and election manifestos, says PRS Legislative Research.

General conduct: Criticism of political parties must be limited to their policies and programmes, past record and work. Activities such as (a) using caste and communal feelings to secure votes, (b) criticising candidates on the basis of unverified reports, (c) bribing or intimidation of voters, and (d) organising demonstrations or picketing outside houses of persons to protest against their opinions, are prohibited.

Meetings: Parties must inform the local police authorities about the venue and time of any meeting in time to enable police to make adequate security arrangements.

Processions: If two or more candidates plan processions along the same route, organisers must establish contact in advance to ensure that the processions do not clash. Carrying and burning effigies representing members of other political parties are not allowed.

Polling day: All authorised party workers at polling booths should be given identity badges. These should not contain the party name, symbol or name of the candidate.

Polling booths: Only voters, and those with a valid pass from the Election Commission, will be allowed to enter polling booths.

Observers: The Election Commission will appoint observers to whom any candidates may report problems regarding the conduct of the election.

Party in power: The code incorporated certain restrictions in 1979, regulating the conduct of the party in power. Ministers must not combine official visits with election work or use official machinery for the same. The party must avoid advertising at the cost of the public exchequer or using official mass media for publicity on achievements to improve chances of victory in the elections. Ministers and other authorities must not announce any financial grants, or promise any construction of roads, provision of drinking water, etc. Other parties must be allowed to use public spaces and rest houses and these must not be monopolised by the party in power.

Election manifestos: Guidelines added in 2013 prohibit parties from making promises that exert an undue influence on voters, and suggest that manifestos also indicate the means to achieve promises.

What restrictions does the code impose?

According to the EC, the code states that the party in power at the Centre and in the states should ensure that it does not use its official position for campaigning. Ministers and other government authorities cannot announce financial grants in any form. No project or scheme which may have the effect of influencing the voter in favour of the party in power can be announced, and ministers cannot use official machinery for campaign purposes.

What are the key malpractices?

Any activity aggravating existing differences or creating mutual hatred or causing tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic, is a corrupt practice under the Representation of the People Act. Making an appeal to caste or communal feelings to secure votes and using places of worship for campaigning are offences under the Act. Bribery to voters is both a corrupt practice and an electoral offence under the Act and Section 171B of the Indian Penal Code. Intimidation of voters is also an electoral offence, while impersonating them is punishable under the IPC. Serving or distributing liquor on election day and during the 48 hours preceding it is an electoral offence. Holding public meetings during the 48-hour period ending with the hour fixed for the closing of the poll is also an offence.

Is the model code of conduct legally binding?

It is not. Certain provisions, however, may be enforced through invoking corresponding provisions in other statutes such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and Representation of the People Act, 1951.

The Election Commission has argued against making the MCC legally binding, saying that elections must be completed within a relatively short time or close to 45 days, and judicial proceedings typically take longer, therefore it is not feasible to make it enforceable by law.

In 2013, the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, recommended making the model code of conduct legally binding. The committee observed in a report on electoral reforms that most provisions of the code are already enforceable through corresponding provisions in other statutes, mentioned above. It recommended that the MCC be made a part of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

From Narendra Modi to Rahul Gandhi: Who violated the model code of conduct?

Narendra Modi, the then prime ministerial, violated the model code of conduct by displaying the BJP’s election symbol “lotus” and then addressing the gathered media near a polling booth after casting his vote in Ahmedabad on April 30, 2014. The Election Commission (EC) issued an order to lodge an FIR against Modi for violating the model code of conduct.

Ahmedabad Police had registered a case against Modi and others on the instruction of the commission under Sections 126 (1)(a) and 126 (1)(b) of the Representation of the People Act and Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code for violating section 144 of the CrPC.

The Election Commission had issued a notice Amit Shah, the then BJP general secretary, in April 201 for his hate speech in riot-hit areas in western Uttar Pradesh during the Lok Sabha poll campaign, urging Jats to “avenge their insults”.

Congress’ Rahul Gandhi was also pulled up by the poll body in December 2017 for his television interviews a day before the final phase of voting in Gujarat. The EC had directed Gujarat’s chief election officer BB Swain to file an FIR against channels in the state that telecast Rahul Gandhi’s interview. Gandhi, on the other hand, has been asked to explain his conduct.

The Election Commission had censured Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal for his bribe remarks he made at a poll rally in Goa in January 2017 and said if he continues to violate the model code, stern action would be taken against him and his party, including suspension or withdrawal of recognition to his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

(Sources: PIB, PRS India)

First Published: Mar 10, 2019 16:20 IST