MCC violations have been bagful and brazen | The EC feels powerless
- The Election commission has seized Rs. 2,464 crores of illegal drugs, money and alcohol meant for alleged distribution among voters
- MCC has historically been unable to deter India’s politicians from flouting rules for electoral gains.
- EC has registered hundreds of violations by political parties and continued reliance on communal narratives
- The Supreme Court has questioned EC on the scope of its powers, while addressing a petition accusingly EC of being toothless
“India is widely viewed as the gold standard for running elections.”
Come 2019, the build up to the Lok Sabha Elections and the exercise of the Chief Election Commission looks nowhere close to that grand appreciation.
With crores of illegal seizures, hundreds of violations by political parties and continued defiance of secularism in narratives, the poll body, it seems, is losing its grip on the national exercise.
Drugs, alcohol and Cash
Since MCC came into effect, the Election Commission has seized a whopping Rs. 2,464 Crore of unaccounted cash, illicit liquor, drugs, gold and freebies. These were meant to be distributed among voters allegedly.
Gujarat perches on top of this list with seizures worth Rs. 516 Crore. The PM’s home state is followed by AIADMK bastion Tamil Nadu (Rs. 476 Crore), national capital New Delhi (Rs. 389 Crore), Andhra Pradesh (Rs. 216 Crore) and Punjab (Rs. 194 Crore).
As per an EC Official, the total seizure includes cash worth Rs. 607 Crore, liquor worth Rs. 198 Crore, narcotics worth Rs. 1,091 Crore, precious metals worth Rs. 486 Crore, and freebies worth Rs. 48 Crore.
MCC violations akin to breaking traffic signals
The Moral Code of Conduct comes in force with the announcement of polling dates. It restricts political parties and leaders from indulging in activities meant to create bias. MCC is meant to ensure a level playing field for all parties so that that the ruling party doesn’t avail an unfair advantage.
Actions considered violations of MCC include inflammatory speeches, using defense personnel in poll advertisements, announcing new welfare projects or public initiatives. In 2019, social media communication has also come under MCC’s purview.
MCC has historically been unable to deter India’s politicians from flouting rules for electoral gains. And this year is no different. By the 1st polling date of 11th April, EC had registered 261 violations of the MCC.
Namo setting the tone for other offenders
Perhaps, what needs a mention here is that the incumbent Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and his political party BJP has been at the forefront of election misconduct.
This is exemplified by the NaMo TV, a blatant disregard of norms and the MCC. NaMo TV launched on March 31, with an aim to highlight PM Modi’s role and repeatedly run his speeches.
The opposition was clearly unimpressed and challenged the legality of the BJP move. Complaints to the EC around violation of MCC by NaMo TV, prompted it to investigate.
The parties have alleged that NaMo TV ‘s content violates not only the MCC but also the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994, which restricts political advertising.
After its probe, the EC had stated that the BJP-sponsored NaMo TV should get all recorded programmes displayed on the platform pre-certified by media certification and monitoring committee of Delhi. It also asked BJP to remove all political publicity content without pre-certification, with immediate effect.
In a similar incident, the Election Commission had to come down on PM Modi’s biopic and delayed its release to after elections.
Is CEC being manipulated?
Three days before the beginning of the polls, on 8th April a group of 66 highly regarded former civil servants who have held esteemed senior positions, addressed a letter to the President of India questioning the integrity of the EC in the face of unchecked violations.
Their letter called it weak-kneed responses from the EC accusing the Poll Body of failing to take actions on several MCC violations.
The letter also went to the CEC wherein the veteran bureaucrat lobby ask the EC to clean up its act. It urged EC to conduct itself in a manner where its independence, fairness, impartiality and efficiency are not questioned.
The former bureaucrats asked the EC to firmly exercise the extensive mandate given to it under Article 324 of the Constitution of India to ensure that voters are able to exercise their right without fear or favour.
Is it toothless? SC will Examine
The Supreme Court said that it will examine the scope of powers of EC and its ability to deal with candidates violating the MCC. SC gave the direction while answering a petition seeking action against for the numerous violations that EC has allegedly ignored.
Earlier, EC had itself told the court it had limited powers to deal with MCC violations. As per EC’s counsel, it initially issues a notice to the concerned person with alleged violations. If the notice is not responded to, it is followed by an advisory. The EC files a police complaint for repeated violations.
However, the EC does not have the power to disqualify a candidate.
Section 123 of the Representation of People’s Act that enlists ‘corrupt practices’, does not specifically mention caste and communal speeches. As per the petition to EC, the provision lacks the potential to ensure a corruption-free election process.
What else is missing is that spokespersons and party leaders not contesting in the elections do not fall under its purview. They are often make found to make such speeches and get away with it.
And then EC found its power
The EC finally decided to put its foot down and create examples of repercussions for speech violations of MCC. It banned four major politicians from campaigning for two to three days.
UP’s CM Adityanath was banned for three days for using the words ‘green virus’ when referring to Muslim being wooed by opposition parties.
Another three-day ban was relied on SP leader Azam Khan for derogatory references against rival woman candidate Jaya Prada, BJP’s Rampur hopeful.
Incumbent Cabinet Minister Maneka Gandhi was served a two day ban for inferring a quid-pro-quo transaction with prospective Muslim voters in her constituency.
The Supreme Court took note of the orders passed by the body and observed that the EC seems to have got back its powers.
The Supreme Court observed:
“You seem to have got your powers back.”
Election Commission’s counsel replied back:
“We found we have powers.”
The Court recorded in its order that no further orders need to be passed at this stage.
However, the limitation of powers of the Poll Watchdog which can neither disqualify candidates nor address violations of political leaders not contesting the polls needs to be addressed moving forward.
- The EC has been under pressure for inactivity on MCC violations, questioned by a lobby of retired civil servants
- PM Narendra Modi and ruling party BJP has been at the forefront of violations with the NaMo TV and numerous polarizing campaign speeches
- The EC finally decided to put its foot down temporarily barring leaders like Adityanath, Mayawati, Azam Khan and Maneka Gandhi from campaigning
- EC’s powers are limited as it can neither disqualify candidates nor address violations of political leaders not contesting the polls.