Opinion

Model Code of Conduct

Aarati Krishnan | Updated on April 12, 2019 Published on March 04, 2019

If you’ve seen political party representatives get down and dirty in TV debates, you may wonder how the Election Commission of India reins in this unruly bunch at election times. The Model Code of Conduct, about which you’ll be hearing a lot in the coming weeks, is one such instrument.

What’s MCC?

For now, forget Marylebone Cricket Club. The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is a document from the Election Commission of India that lays down the minimum standards of behaviour for political parties and their candidates contesting elections, by defining their dos and don’ts in the electoral battle. The MCC was first mooted by Kerala in its 1960 assembly elections. It was later adopted by the Election Commission (EC) during mid-term elections in 1968 and 1969.

It has since been tweaked and updated many times based on cases fought in courts. The Code has evolved over the years to include behaviour norms for the party in power and the public servants who report to it.

When does it apply?

The MCC kicks in as soon as the EC announces the election schedule.

What does it say?

The MCC lays down good behaviour norms covering eight areas of electioneering, which include general conduct of candidates and also their meetings/processions, appointment of observers, maintenance of polling booths on D-Day, and what should go into their election manifestos.

There are elaborate rules to ensure that the party in power plays fair. Under ‘general conduct’, the Code mainly frowns upon candidates inciting communal tensions, using caste or religion to appeal for votes and canvassing within 100 metres of polling stations, and in the 48 hours preceding the polls. For meetings and processions, parties are enjoined to obtain advance permissions from local authorities and seek police help to contain unruly elements.

Effigy burning is expressly prohibited. On D-day, political parties are expected to identify their party workers with badges, stay off the polling booths, keep their camps near the booths free of propaganda material, and refrain from distributing goodies or liquor to voters. Though the election manifestos of political parties are released well ahead of polling dates, the EC has guidelines for these too. It directs parties to refrain from pie-in-the-sky promises and stick only to those that are financially feasible.

The Code reserves its longest list of don’ts for the ruling party. To ensure that the party in power doesn’t gain an unfair advantage in campaigning, ministers are barred from mixing their official visits with political rallies, commandeering government vehicles, aircraft or machinery or issuing public advertisements promoting the party or its leaders at the cost of the exchequer. The party in power is also directed not to ‘monopolise’ public places or government rest houses and bungalows for political rallies.

Once elections are announced, ministers are expressly barred from announcing financial grants or large projects or making ad-hoc government appointments in a way that could influence voter behaviour.

Is it legally binding?

No, the MCC does not have statutory backing. But the Code has come to acquire teeth in the past decade, because of its strict enforcement by the EC. Some of the more serious offences listed in the Code have also found their way into the statute books.

Today, inciting hatred through political speeches, appealing to caste and community feelings of voters, intimidating or bribing voters and distributing liquor or holding public meetings in the 48 hours preceding the close of polling, are all offences for which candidates can be tried under the Indian Penal Code or the Representation of the People Act 1951.

Does it work?

If caught in the act of flouting the Code, the EC has been known to extract swift reprisals. But you may have noticed that political parties do routinely flout many of the norms. It’s no joke for a single entity to monitor a country with 900 million voters sprawled over 3.2 million square kilometres.

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Published on March 04, 2019
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