During ongoing campaign trail for UP assembly elections, the Election Commission officials found that Rahul Gandhi’s road show in Kanpur continued beyond scheduled time and distance.  Subsequently on the same day, the EC registered a report against Rahul Gandhi and some local Congress leaders for violating model code of conduct.

But Congress party found the complaint against its leaders inappropriate and expressed to challenge the move in the High Court. Whatever be the court’s observation over the issue but even earlier, some other senior Congress leaders like Salman Khurshid, Beni Prasad Verma and Sri Prakash Jaiswal have already been served notices by the commission for violating the model code of conduct besides small leaders of the party who were served the same. A number of such cases of the violation of code of conduct usually appear during elections. Many times, it appears that the Commission is overshooting while enforcing the model code of conduct, nevertheless the politicians of all stature, big or small, are intentionally trying to challenge the authority of the commission. Though some of the actions of the Commission seem to be the manifestation of its oversensitiveness but our politicians will cross all the limits in wooing the voters if the Commission ceases to be strict in enforcing the model code of conduct. Our politicians are used to violate the model code of conduct.

Large scale poll rigging, threatening to voters, booth capturing, unnecessary noise of poll campaigns like highly annoying and disturbing noise of loudspeakers in every street and locality, unwanted graffiti on the walls of the private buildings and flux of posters, banners and flags of the political parties, have become bygones. It is the strictness of the Commission which has to be attributed for this change. But the Commission’s measures have proved futile in checking the misuse of money power in elections. It is true that the Commission has shown its seriousness in this regard especially during poll campaigns in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh as its officials recovered huge amount of unaccounted money from there which was presumed to be used to influence the voters. However, politicians have not yet stopped misuse of the money power.

Having been displeased with the strictness of the Commission for UP elections, the Union Cabinet had started contemplating on the right of enforcement of the model code of conduct by Election Commission out of its purview. After the revelation of media reports regarding the government’s intentions on this issue, the concerned Group of Ministers and the Ministry of Personnel quipped to refute that the government was planning to truncate the authority of the Commission. Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid and his other colleagues however, put forth that the government can take a call in this regard if an unanimity with the consent of all political parties is sought on curtailing the power of the Commission, it expresses ambiguity on the government’s intentions. The Centre has no answer to the question why a right-thinking political party would demand for curtailing the authority of the Commission especially when it is largely being felt that the authority of the poll panel should be widened. The explanations given by the government stating that all such reports are misleading and mischievous hold no ground albeit granting a constitutional status to the model code of conduct was proposed by the people who are a part of the government and not the media. The move to prepare a proposal of this effect is enough to rake up the intentions of the government. Moreover, it should not be overlooked that Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari had already proposed to grant a constitutional status to the model code of conduct. This is not only when it is being talked to truncate the powers of the Election Commission, rather two new Commissioners in the poll panel were appointed to assist TN Seshan who was earlier the Chief Election Commissioner.

This decision was aimed at weakening the authority of the Commission. Whatsoever be the claims of the Centre, it is a fact that it has never been interested to carry forward the long pending proposals for electoral reforms. Even the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) has said that the Centre is not showing inclination towards electoral reforms. The Centre’s shoddiness over the implementation of the long pending electoral reforms and on the other hand its promptness to grant a constitutional status to model code of conduct raises doubts on the government’s intentions. If the Centre’s claims are to be believed that it has no intentions to curb the powers of the Commission even after granting a constitutional status to the model code of conduct, its implementation should  remain under the purview of the Commission. Moreover, the model code of conduct could be made more effective and the instances of its violation might be also minimized.

The ongoing clash between the Centre and the poll panel is not a usual phenomenon. It had come in with the declaration of the elections in all five states. Salman Khurshid courted the Commissoin’s wrath by making comments on Muslim reservation. When Khurshid became more defiant by ignoring the Commission’s objections over his comments which compelled the later to bring this issue to the Prime Minister. When the controversy over Khurshid’s remarks relented, he once again challenged the authority of the Commission. Taking it very seriously, the Commission chose to register its complaint with the President. The President forwarded the Commission’s letter to the Prime Minister Office. Later Khurshid tendered his apology. But soon after the incident, another Union Minster Beni Prasad Verma joined this issue by making another controversial statement. Finally, Sri Prakash Jaiswal has triggered a fresh controversy advocating the President Rule in Uttar Pradesh. He was also served a notice by the Commission for such statement. It is hard to believe his controversial statement that either the Congress will form a government in the state or there will be a President Rule here. Perhaps, this is the first time when three Union Ministers have been served the notices by the Commission on controversial remarks. Taking stock of the situation the Congress felt it appropriate to curtail the rights of the Commission. Whatever be the reality but the looming threat of putting the model code of conduct out of the Commission’s purview in the name of granting it a constitutional status can’t be ignored. If the government’s intentions prevail, it is bound to weaken the power of the Commission which may culminate into a flux of the violation of the model code of conduct cases as their disposal  in the court cannot be an easy task. 

In the light of arguments of the Congress Party, it is deciphered that the ruling party in the Centre is not ready to tolerate strong constitutional institutions. It is an ominous development that the nation’s largest party is indicating at curtailing the powers of the Election Commission which may lead to jeopardize the popularity of the Congress party.

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on February 26, 2012 translated by the English Editorial. The author is Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)