Thursday, July 25, 2024

Role of Election Commission in Maintaining Ethics in Politics

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As Rajasthan elections draws closer, political parties have been passing jibes at each other. Recently, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had passed a remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, calling him a “pickpocket” and a “panauti. While comparing Modi to a pickpocket, Rahul had alleged that while the PM diverts people’s attention, industrialist Gautam Adani picks their pockets. He had also alleged that Modi had granted loan waivers to the wealthy adding up to Rs 14 lakh crore in the last nine years. Both these remarks were made during election rallies in Rajasthan.

The Election Commission under Article 324 has been entrusted with the task of ensuring a level playing field and good spirit of the whole campaign and the election process. In order to ensure free and fair elections the Election commission had devised a model code of conduct (MCC). These guidelines help regulate political parties and candidates prior the elections and remain operational from the announcement of election schedule until the election results. The code states that criticism must be limited to the policies, past records and work. Criticizing candidates on the basis of unverified reports, bribing or intimidation of voters, etc. are prohibited. Citing these the EC issued a show cause notice to

Rahul Gandhi saying the use of “panauti” falls under the definition of corrupt practice, as per the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

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In spite of numerous initiatives in use by the Election Commission of India, the electoral politics suffers from ‘voter bribing’, ‘hate speeches” and repeated violations of MCC on account of-

  1. Development of Technology– The task of EC has become increasingly more difficult in recent times due to the evolution of social media where any news spreads like wildfire and new forms of electoral malpractice have emerged, including use of tools for voter bribery and manipulation.
  2. Enforcement-Another major reason is that the MCC does not have statutory backing and replies on the provisions of other statutes such as RPA 1951, CrPC 1973 and IPC 1860 for its enforcement.
  3. Delayed action– EC has not been able to adequately address the inappropriate remarks passed by powerful politicians. This encourages other politicians enough to disobey the MCC without any fear of repercussions.
  1. Absence of authority to disqualify candidates– Candidates who engage in election malpractice are not subject to disqualification by the Election Commission
  2. Lack of authority to de-register political parties– For electoral infractions, the EC lacks the authority to deregister any political party. This raises questions regarding political parties’ accountability and the absence of repercussions for their deeds.

Way forward-

  1. Independence of ECI: The Election Commission should be granted greater independence similar to the CAG to enable it to take more stringent actions for the implementation of MCC.
  1. Use of technology: Technology-based resources, such as AI, can be utilized to prevent violations of MCC through social media platforms.
  1. The Election Commission needs to be given the powers of de-registering a political party
  2. It should be given more power with regards to disqualification of members, post-election and in case of anti-defection as well.
  3. All the provisions of MCC be given statutory backing.
  4. Financial autonomy-Its expenditures must be charged from consolidated fund of India like in case of other constitutional bodies.
  5. Reducing the ECI’s dependence on DoPT, Law Ministry, and Home Ministry. It should be able to frame its own independent recruitment rules and shortlist and appoint officers on its own since elections are held in our country every year now.

Overall, in order to prevent such incidents from reoccurring in future the ECI must open itself to new possibilities and multi stakeholder involvement as it is still the dark knight of our democracy and good ethics is equal to good governance.

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