The Election Commission of India’s Model Code of Conduct (MCC), which is in force in Telangana and four other states at this point in time, has come a long way since it was first introduced in Kerala during the state elections in 1960. Though the MCC lacks legal teeth, the ECI hopes to implement it and bring violators to book with the help of citizens, through their C-Vigil app, in this year’s Telangana election.
TNM looks at how the model conduct of code has evolved over the years, why it lacks any legal powers and the efforts by the Telangana Election Commission to make the C-Vigil app a success.
Why MCC can’t be enforceable by law
When first introduced in Kerala, the MCC was just a set of guidelines issued to political parties on how to conduct their meetings, speeches and slogans, among others.
In the 1962 Lok Sabha elections, the ECI asked the state governments to circulate the model code of conduct among the recognised political parties to seek their feedback. The regulations for the party in power, to regulate and prevent them from gaining an unfair advantage in elections, were added to the MCC in 1979. However, the strict implementation of the MCC by the ECI began only in 1991.
In 2013, the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice recommended the MCC be part of the Representation of People Act, 1951. The standing committee observed that the provisions mentioned in the MCC are already enforceable through corresponding Indian Penal Code (IPC) provisions.
In 2014, the ECI reasoned that the elections are conducted within a very limited time frame, that is, 45 days from the day of announcement of election schedule by the commission. It pointed out that as judicial proceedings typically take time due to delay in presenting proof, it simply was not feasible to make MCC enforceable by law.
The same year, on April 30, 2014, an FIR was filed against Narendra Modi, then a Prime Ministerial candidate, for a political speech and for displaying party symbol outside the Gandhinagar polling booth in Gujarath.
On April 14, 2016, the ECI issued a show cause notice to the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, for announcing a new district at a poll rally in Asansol. On April 11, the then Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi held a press conference, even as polling in 61 constituencies were underway.
On the second and final phase of 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi showed his inked finger and waved his hands to a jubilant crowd. A move, the opposition parties viewed to be a violation of the Model Code of Conduct rule that prohibited canvasing anywhere within 100 meters of a polling station. Another FIR was filed against the PM.
But in all these instances of MCC violations, the cases were subsequently dropped. In fact, the ECI had said, “Bringing the MCC on the statute book will only be counter-productive.”
That is why, in the absence of any legal teeth for the MCC, the ECI is empowering the citizens to report political misconduct through the C-vigil application, of course, with proof, in the form of a video or photograph that are geo-tagged.
How the app works
Once a user uploads and sends a picture or video of a possible political malpractice on the C-Vigil app, the information will be sent to the District Control room, which will, in turn, alert the field units, such as the flying squads of the local police, static surveillance teams and reserve teams, which can reach the spot in a few minutes.
The field unit will have a GIS-based mobile application called the ‘C-vigil dispatcher’ that would allow them to track the location from where the complaint was received.
The actions taken by the field unit is relayed back to the returning officer for decision making and disposal. If the complaint is found genuine, the information is then sent to the National Grievances Portal of the ECI for further action.
The entire process is expected to occur within a span of 100 minutes.
The ECI says that apart from the flying squads, it will also draw support from other police departments, such as the excise department, to keep pace with the incoming complaints.
A gamechanger in elections: ECI
The ECI views the app to be a game changer in bringing more MCC violations to their notice in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in 2019. They have already begun testing the app in Telangana and in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Mizoram, which are heading for the polls this year.
Amrapali Kata, the Joint Election Commissioner with the Telangana EC, is in charge of laying the groundwork for the feedback and back-end work for the application to function smoothly. She says, “We are building the app as we go. This will be the first time that an app will be used in any elections in India, though it was pilot tested in Chennai during the RK Nagar elections in Tamil Nadu and at Bengaluru during the recent Karnataka elections.”
The official said the state EC is excited but also “terrified” anticipating the number of MCC violations they will receive on the app. So far, the state EC has received 1,050 complaints through the app though unveiled in July this year became operational in Telangana in September after the MCC came into effect. The app will officially start receiving complaints only from November 7 and will cease to accept complaints a day after December 7, the Telangana poll date.
‘Minor flaws, but will overcome them’
Despite the extensive preparations, the officials are still expecting delays in response to complaints. “Some of the responses to the complaints will be slightly overdue; but it will be a delay of over 100 minutes as opposed to a day or two when compared to the previous elections,” points out Amrapali.
The ECI is not willing to go easy on the 100-minute response time but is optimistic about the success of the portal, she added.
“The city traffic will be another major hindrance for the field officers as they have to reach the spot of the complaint within 15 minutes,” says Amarapalika.
As the app currently supports only Hindi and English, the state EC expects it to be used by the urban population in Hyderabad. “But we are sure the app will be adopted by the public in other districts as well, as it is a user-friendly app. Also, we are expecting more languages to be added before the general elections,” she added.