EC tough on model code of conduct 

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Who has a harder fight than he who is striving to overcome himself.

  • Thomas a Kempis

Election mania is slowly and steadily gripping the nation. The entire country is getting gripped by some sort of madness. It is a riveting, electrifying scene. Voters are polarized as never before. This election, however, is different. It has been described, quite rightly, as India’s most historic election ever. There are claims from parties and politicians of every hue about fighting corruption, the price rise, poverty and inflation. Several steps by the Election Commission (EC) of India to ensure a free and fair battle, have given this election a different perspective. Introduction of the cVIGIL app is such one initiative. The cVIGIL app is expected to create a fast-track complaint reception and redressal system on model code of conduct. The cVIGIL is an innovative mobile application for citizens to report model code of conduct and expenditure violations during the elections. ‘cVIGIL’ stands for Vigilant Citizen and emphasises the proactive and responsible role citizens can play in the conduct of free and fair elections. The uniqueness of the app is that it only allows live photo/ video with auto location capture from within the app to ensure digital evidence for flying squads to act upon in a time-bound manner.

In another landmark decision, the Election Commission (EC) has made it clear that political parties will not be able to release election manifestos in the 48 hour prohibitory period before the conclusion of any state or national polls. This applies to both single phase elections or each phases of a multi-phased elections like the ongoing Lok Sabha polls. This move lends more clarity and aims to further strengthen the principle of “campaign silence” which prohibits any kind of campaigning in the last 48 hours up to the conclusion of polls so that the voters are not influenced. The EC’s decision stems from the recommendation of a 14-member committee set up to revisit the MCC, Section 126 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act (which prohibits any form of poll campaign in the last 48 hours leading up to voting), and other related provisions in the wake of rapid media expansion. In 2014, the BJP had released its Lok Sabha manifesto on the day of voting in the first phase. Although the Congress had complained to the EC that this would influence voters, the Commission was unable to act since the model code, at that time, was silent on the timing of release of manifesto. Last minute manifesto clearly aims at catching the voter off-guard and confusing them over their choice owing to a populist manifesto.

Another big issue that hovers around the poll process at present is that, can ECI make social media abide by the model code? While announcing the dates for the seven-phase general election, 2019, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora had made it clear that all politicians and political parties must ensure their social media accounts comply with official guidelines pertaining to “acceptable behaviour”. The EC will have to be extra vigilant to maintain a tight grip on social media, VVPATs, cVIGIL, amended norms to fulfil its main objective of conducting a free and fair election.

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