On Monday, the Election Commission (EC) of India said it will not be amending the model code of conduct for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
The amendment in question is whether or not to allow political parties to release their manifestos in the 72 hours leading up to polls.
Citing a lack of consensus among political parties, the EC has decided to put “fresh consultations” on hold, until after the Lok Sabha elections are concluded.
What is this issue about?
Reports say that the EC has been consulting with various political parties on whether the latter should be restricted from releasing their manifestos before polling.
This decision follows the setting up of a 14-member committee tasked with reviewing Section 126 of the Representative of the People Act.
Simply put, this act details the various ways in which campaigning can be carried out like via television or social media and states that all campaigning must stop within 48 hours of polling day.
The act regulates “election silence” from political parties so as to not sway voters last minute.
The committee recommended that the EC’s model code of conduct should only allow political parties to release their election manifestos 72 hours or more, before polling begins.
The committee made this suggestion to “maintain the sanctity of Section 126” and ensure that voters are not influence by campaign promises at the 11th hour.
The Indian Express explains that the committee suggested that parties and candidates should not “make any reference, direct or indirect, seeking support for seats covered under the silence period.”
This means that in a multi-phase elections, this provision on manifestos will apply to certain, active polling areas at a time.
This provision was recommended because political parties release their manifestos with pomp and celebration, right before polling, but fail to provide financial specifics on how they will achieve those points.
Livemint quotes Atishi Marlena of Aam Aadmi Party who says, “In principle, the idea of accountability in a manifesto is extremely important.”
Of the parties that shared feedback on this model code amendment, the Times of India reported that the Congress is opposed to it, while the Communist Party of India (CPI), AIADMK, Lok Janshakti Party, and Samajwadi Party (SP) are in favour.
In 2013, the EC issued a notice to Union Minister Balram Naik for announcing a Rs. 20 crore scheme for the construction of hostels specifically for OBC students in Madhya Pradesh, where polls had already begun.
Naik was asked to reply explaining why punitive action should not be taken against him for violating the EC model code of conduct.
That same year, the EC also brought up then-Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Jayalalithaa for a similar violation.
News18 reports that Jayalalithaa announced development schemes for areas where elections were being held. She was also asked to send a written response to the notice.
“The Commission has decided to afford you an opportunity to explain your stand [as to] why action should not be taken against you for the aforesaid violation of MCC”, said the EC.
The Hindu reported that in Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leads in the number of EC code violations with 97 FIRs registered. The BJP follows with 79 and Congress with 67 FIRs.
After questions rose on how binding the EC code of conduct was, the Supreme Court settled the matter by stating that the election body had the power to enforce the code.
In the past, the Congress has suggested making the EC code an enforceable legislation piece. However, it rejected the committee’s decision to implement a stay on manifesto release.
Rhea Arora is a staff writer at Qrius.