Enforcing the red lines in campaign - Hindustan Times
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Enforcing the red lines in campaign

ByHT Editorial
May 23, 2024 09:00 PM IST

The Election Commission must ensure that all parties follow the Model Code of Conduct

Letters from the Election Commission of India (ECI) to the presidents of the BJP and the Congress, asking them to instruct their “star campaigners” against undertaking provocative canvassing, may be motivated by good intentions, but are too mild, too generic, and come too late in the campaign cycle. Five phases of polling are over and the campaign for the sixth phase ended Thursday (a day after the letters were sent). Hopefully, the parties will advise their leaders to heed the ECI’s message and change the words, tone, and tenor of their speeches henceforth, but the very delay in sending the letters may have taken out whatever little sting they have.

The Election Commission of India. (HT File) PREMIUM
The Election Commission of India. (HT File)

What is spoken in the heat of the campaign with the intent to polarise people for immediate and temporary gains — be it by targeting the faith of people or making doomsday predictions about the Constitution and the election process — may hang in the air much after the polling and create long-lasting fault lines that could scar society, destroy the credibility of institutions, and lead to mistrust in the electoral process. It is to avoid such outcomes that the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is enforced once the election process gets underway. All stakeholders must adhere to it, and the ECI must protect it aggressively.

The ECI has in the past censured many campaigners for provocative speech, of course. Most recently, it barred former Calcutta high court judge and BJP candidate Abhijit Gangopadhyay from campaigning for 24 hours for his misogynist comments against the West Bengal CM. However, the ECI’s action has to be prompt, non-partisan and even-handed: The stature or office of the person violating the Code should not influence the institution’s response, which it may well have in this case. The ECI’s directives to party chiefs were triggered by a complaint filed by the Congress on April 21, prompted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s controversial comments at a rally in Banswada, Rajasthan, and the BJP on April 19, prompted by Rahul Gandhi’s comments at a rally in Kottayam, Kerala. The ECI sent notices to both party presidents on April 21, but the fact that the ECI’s censure (in the form of the notices) had a limited impact on the campaign — it states as much in its letters to the two party chiefs; campaigners for both sides have continued in the same vein since — raises concerns about both the institution’s willingness to ensure that the campaign is insulated from divisive politics, and its capacity to do so.

This is why, after the din subsides on June 1, there needs to be a conversation among various stakeholders about the need for course correction in election campaigns, so that the dignity of the democratic process is not compromised.

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