04, Apr 2019 | CJP Team
For candidates, election season is often a battle for political survival and sometimes they end up crossing ethical and legal lines. Therefore, the Election Commission of India came up with a Model Code of Conduct to monitor and regulate the behaviour of candidates and parties during elections. This was done to ensure that elections take place in a free and fair manner and voters are not influenced, manipulated or coerced in any manner.
The following resource helps you familiarise yourself with the salient features of the Election Model Code of Conduct (EMCoC). It also helps you file complaints against parties and candidates for violating provisions of the EMCoC.
The EMCoC is divided into eight parts and lays down guidelines for general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day dos-and-don’ts, conduct for polling booths and election observers, conduct guidelines for the party in power as well as election manifestos. While the entire EMCoC may be read here, following are the key features.
Provisions related to Communalism and Casteism
According to the EMCoC, “No party or candidate shall include in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic.” Additionally, “There shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes. Mosques, Churches, Temples or other places of worship shall not be used as forum for election propaganda.” This is significant given how candidates are known to offer “private prayers” at places of worship, but this is done under full media glare in the run up to elections.
Therefore, watch out for anyone asking for votes in the name of religion or caste. Also watch out for political leaders making derogatory remarks about people belonging to certain castes, communities or religious backgrounds. For example, when a Karnataka BJP MLA recently said that “Muslims should sweep office floors if they want tickets,” it qualifies as Hate Speech. Similarly, when a Rajasthan Congress leader questioned the credentials of “non-Brahmins” to make statements about Hinduism, it amounts to Hate Speech.
Additionally, be vigilant about speeches at rallies and public meetings where candidates not only speak ill of other religions, communities or castes, but also advocate using violence against them. Hate speech that incites violence is prosecutable under law and you must report it.
You too can take action against hate, by sending us reports of instances of hate using our Hate Hatao app, and donating to support our efforts.
Provisions related to Corrupt Practices
There are strict provisions governing the exchange of money and favours as well as acts of coersion and manipulation in a bid to influence voting or the outcome of elections. The EMCoC says, “All parties and candidates shall avoid scrupulously all activities which are ‘corrupt practices’ and offences under the election law, such as bribing of voters, intimidation of voters, impersonation of voters, canvassing within 100 meters of polling stations, holding public meetings during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the close of the poll, and the transport and conveyance of voters to and from polling station.”
Offering outright cash for votes is definitely a bribe and must be reported to the authorities. Other items like alcohol, electronic appliances and expensive gifts can also be examples of items or favours offered as inducements for votes.
Provisions related to Privacy and Private Property
Political parties are discouraged from invading people’s privacy and also making damaging claims that cannot be verified. The EMCoC says, “Criticism of other political parties, when made, shall be confined to their policies and programme, past record and work. Parties and Candidates shall refrain from criticism of all aspects of private life, not connected with the public activities of the leaders or workers of other parties. Criticism of other parties or their workers based on unverified allegations or distortion shall be avoided.”
So watch out for personal attacks. Most common examples are misogynistic comments about women candidates or jibes on sexuality or personal lives. Recently, the National Commission for women served notice to an SP MLA for making sexist remarks about a woman actor turned politician.
Similarly, the EMCoC aims to cultivate respect for private property. It says, “The right of every individual for peaceful and undisturbed home-life shall be respected, however much the political parties or candidates may resent his political opinions or activities. Organizing demonstrations or picketing before the houses of individuals by way of protesting against their opinions or activities shall not be resorted to under any circumstances.” It adds, “No political party or candidate shall permit its or his followers to make use of any individual’s land, building, compound wall etc., without his permission for erecting flag-staffs, suspending banners, pasting notices, writing slogans etc.”
So, if you notice any such violation in terms of obstruction or defacement of private property, you are within your rights to file a complaint against it.
Provisions related to Meetings and Processions
Parties and candidates are advised to seek all necessary permissions and licences well in advance. They are also advised to stick to the planned route and not deviate from it. Additionally, they must coordinate with local law enforcement personnel, be cognisant of prohibitory orders if applicable at the time and respect such orders. Parties and candidates are also advised against causing public nuisance and obstructions.
The EMCoC says, “The organizers shall take steps in advance to arrange for passage of the procession so that there is no block or hindrance to traffic. If the procession is very long, it shall be organized in segments of suitable lengths, so that at convenient intervals, especially at points where the procession has to pass road junctions, the passage of held up traffic could be allowed by stages thus avoiding heavy traffic congestion. Processions shall be so regulated as to keep as much to the right of the road as possible and the direction and advice of the police on duty shall be strictly complied with.”
On the day of polling
There are special provisions that relate to behaviour of party workers and candidates on the day of polling. They are all expected to co-operate with the officers on election duty to ensure peaceful and orderly polling and complete freedom to the voters to exercise their franchise without being subjected to any annoyance or obstruction.
Parties should also supply to their authorized workers suitable badges or identity cards. But ensure that the identity slip supplied by them to voters hall be on plain (white) paper and shall not contain any symbol, name of the candidate or the name of the party. Candidate’s camps are not allowed to display any posters, flags, symbols or any other propaganda material. Additionally, they must also not allow unnecessary crowd to be collected near the camps set up by the political parties and candidates near the polling booths so as to avoid confrontation and tension among workers and sympathizers of the parties and the candidate.
Finally, all parties and candidates must refrain from serving or distributing liquor on polling day and during the forty eight hours preceding it. No eatable shall be served or crowd allowed at the camps.
Therefore, if you see any party flaunting its symbol in posters, flags, banners etc. or serving alcoholic beverages to people, inform the Booth Level officers or Election Observers in your area immediately.
Provisions for the Party in Power
According to the EMCoC, the party in power, whether at the Centre or in the State or States concerned, shall ensure that no cause is given for any complaint that it has used its official position for the purposes of its election campaign and in particular –
- (a) The Ministers shall not combine their official visit with electioneering work and shall not also make use of official machinery or personnel during the electioneering work.
(b) Government transport including official air-crafts, vehicles, machinery and personnel shall not be used for furtherance of the interest of the party in power;
- Public places such as maidens etc., for holding election meetings, and use of helipads for air-flights in connection with elections shall not be monopolized by itself. Other parties and candidates shall be allowed the use of such places and facilities on the same terms and conditions on which they are used by the party in power;
- Rest houses, dark bungalows or other Government accommodation shall not be monopolized by the party in power or its candidates and such accommodation shall be allowed to be used by other parties and candidates in a fair manner but no party or candidate shall use or be allowed to use such accommodation (including premises appertaining thereto) as a campaign office or for holding any public meeting for the purposes of election propaganda;
- Issue of advertisement at the cost of public exchequer in the newspapers and other media and the misuse of official mass media during the election period for partisan coverage of political news and publicity regarding achievements with a view to furthering the prospects of the party in power shall be scrupulously avoided.
- Ministers and other authorities shall not sanction grants/payments out of discretionary funds from the time elections are announced by the Commission; and
- From the time elections are announced by Commission, Ministers and other authorities shall not –
(a) announce any financial grants in any form or promises thereof; or
(b) (except civil servants) lay foundation stones etc. of projects or schemes of any kind; or
(c) make any promise of construction of roads, provision of drinking water facilities etc.; or
(d) make any ad-hoc appointments in Government, Public Undertakings etc. which may have the effect of influencing the voters in favor of the party in power.
Note : The Commission shall announce the date of any election which shall be a date ordinarily not more than three weeks prior to the date on which the notification is likely to be issued in respect of such elections.
- Ministers of Central or State Government shall not enter any polling station or place of counting except in their capacity as a candidate or voter or authorized agent.
How to file complaints against EMCoC violations
You can either file your complaint online or in person. The easiest way is using the National Grievances Service portal set up by the Election Commission of India. All you have to do is sign up or login if you have an existing ID, and write to them. You are given an acknowledgement with a tracking ID to follow up on the progress of your complaint. The ECI also has an app called c-Vigil that is available for both android and i-phones.
All you have to do is click a picture or record a video (duration under two minutes) and upload it on the app. Once successfully submitted, the app gives you a unique ID to track your complaint. The identity of the complainant is kept confidential. However, there is a caveat. The image or video cannot be more than five minutes old. This is reportedly done to prevent misuse of the app.
You can also directly file a complaint with the office of the District Election Officer or the office of the Returning Officer of the concerned jurisdiction. You can also bring violations at any polling station to the attention of the Booth Level Officer or Observers appointed by the EC.
Allegations against EC for leniency towards ruling dispensation
In the run up to 2019 elections, there have been several instances where members of the ruling party have played fast and loose with the rules. Though the EC pulled up the Indian Railways when it was discovered that tea was served in cups with “Main Bhi Chowkidar” branding on Shatabdi Express, and even wrote to aviation and railway ministries when PM Modi’s image appeared on tickets and boarding passes, it has failed to take action in other instances.
In fact, the EC ruled that the announcement about ASAT capability did not amount to a code of conduct violation. Shockingly, the EC has also claimed it has no objection to the release of the biopic on PM Narendra Modi’s life just before the 2019 general elections, even though it appears to be a propaganda tool designed to swing votes in his favour.
In light of the above, it becomes even more important for citizens to be vigilant and leave no stone unturned in ensuring that no candidate or party is allowed to abuse power and influence the polls.