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Is MCC redundant? What Modi announcing policy decisions in poll-bound states means for EC code

Mid-poll scheme announcements and campaigning are not new for the BJP. PM Modi has earlier used interviews and other modes to strike voter outreach during elections, counting on 24×7 news coverage and social media to take the message to the intended audience. 

But the ongoing election season marks a departure from the BJP poll playbook in that key announcements have been delivered in poll-bound states. 

On 4 November, addressing an election rally in Chhattisgarh’s Durg two days before the first phase of polling in the state, PM Modi announced the extension of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Scheme — the foodgrain assistance scheme introduced in 2020 when Covid struck — for five more years.

On 11 November, in Telangana, he declared the formation of a committee to consider the subcategorisation of the Scheduled Castes (SCs), while addressing a rally of the Madiga community in Hyderabad. The Madigas constitute 50 percent of Telangana’s SC population. 

While the BJP denies these announcements had anything to do with the elections, they raise questions about the relevance of the model code of conduct, the Election Commission (EC) norms that place certain restrictions on politicians after elections have been announced.

These include a bar on “holding public meetings during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the close of the poll”, and ministers combining “their official visit with electioneering work” or making “any promise of construction of roads, provision of drinking water facilities etc”.

Election experts say the policy announcements constitute a clear-cut violation of poll rules, but the EC appears helpless to stop them.

They also point to the changing nature of election campaigns — with a lot of the campaigning taking place on social media, where any narrative started in any state reaches all over India — and note that the EC’s rules have failed to keep up.

Reached for comment, an EC official said on condition of anonymity that the poll panel “has received several complaints about poll code violations and they are examining them”.

Also Read: Modi govt introduces bill to replace CJI with minister in EC selection panel, negates SC order

Big-ticket poll season

Of the five poll-bound states, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have a high share of tribal population. 

On 17 November, MP votes for all of its 230 seats, while Chhattisgarh will vote for 70 of 90 seats.

In Chhattisgarh, tribals comprise 32 percent of the state’s population, and 29 seats are reserved for STs. Tribals account for 21 percent of the population in MP, where 47 seats are reserved for ST candidates. 

In the previous assembly election in 2018, the Congress won 25 of Chhattisgarh’s tribal-reserved seats, and 30 in MP. The BJP’s score was three in Chhattisgarh and 15 in MP. 

Among the 25 tribal-reserved seats in Rajasthan, where tribals comprise 13.5 percent of the population, the BJP won nine and the Congress 12. 

PM Modi’s outreach in the states at the peak of election campaigning can be seen as a desperate attempt to win back tribals. 

While the Garib Kalyan Yojana has been extended before, the timing this time was criticised by the Opposition as a violation of the poll code, with the Congress and the Trinamool Congress also complaining about it to the Election Commission. 

“This announcement… is a clear violation of the model code of conduct as it was made without the approval of the Union Cabinet, during the poll process,” said Congress communications head Jairam Ramesh on X. 

“Will the Election Commission of India take note of it and act?”

Meanwhile, in Telangana, which has 19 SC reserved seats, state BJP chief G. Kishan Reddy, soon after the PM’s announcement, said that the constitution of the committee was aimed at speeding the subcategorisation process. “Think about this before casting your vote,” he said at a press conference

On his part, Modi has made light of the Opposition’s criticism. Addressing a rally in Madhya Pradesh last week, he said, “They are talking about approaching the EC and complaining against Modi. ‘How could he talk about giving free rations to the poor, what does Modi think of himself?’

“Do whatever you want,” he added. “I will accept whatever punishment comes my way but I will not leave working for the poor,” Modi said, referring to the extension of the foodgrain scheme.

Code ‘violations’

During the UPA era, Modi had accused the EC of being partisan. 

In 2014, addressing a rally in Varanasi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Modi said the body had failed “to do your duty properly”, and was “partial and biased”.

As Prime Minister, many of Modi’s election-time activities have been seen as attempts to buck the MCC with an eye on the voters.

In 2021, during the West Bengal assembly polls, Modi visited Orakandi in Bangladesh to offer prayers at a temple of the Matuas, a minority Dalit Hindu group with roots in Bangladesh that is considered key in the state. This came after the model code had kicked in. 

The TMC complained to the EC but the complaint was dismissed. 

During the 2o22 Gujrat assembly election, Modi was accused of poll code violation for wearing a saffron cap and carrying a BJP flag and conducting a road show while going to cast his vote.

The Congress alleged in its complaint that the PM’s 2.5-km roadshow amounted to campaigning during the EC’s moratorium. The EC, however, said that it was not established that it was a road show, and that the crowd was there on its own.

While campaigning for his second term in 2019, Modi faced multiple such allegations, including when he sought votes in the name of the Pulwama martyrs and those who carried out the subsequent airstrikes on Pakistan while addressing a rally in Latur. 

Another complaint centred on his comment that Rahul Gandhi had chosen to contest from Wayanad in Kerala because the constituency had a high percentage of Muslim voters. 

“The Congress insulted Hindus… Leaders of that party are now scared of contesting from constituencies dominated by the majority community. That is why they are forced to take refuge in places where the majority is a minority,” he said.

In 2019, during the “silent phase” of campaigning — the 48-hour period before voting — Modi used television to communicate his campaign message. 

In a television interview, Modi said he “approved the Indian Air Force’s crossborder mission in Balakot” that took place after the Pulwama attack, despite inclement weather and against the advice of experts. 

When the Opposition complained to the EC, the panel said it did not find any violation. 

However, this triggered a controversy when the then election commissioner Ashok Lavasa dissented. The latter resigned from the EC in 2o20.

In 2014, the Opposition accused the Prime Minister of violating poll code when he prominently displayed the BJP’s lotus symbol — worn as a lapel — after casting his vote in Ahmedabad. Modi later claimed that the media interaction was not planned and the lotus was part of his attire. 

Also Read: What’s behind Modi govt’s push for ‘One Nation, One Election’ and why it has rattled INDIA

‘Poll panel code redundant’ 

Jagdish Chokkar, a founding member of the election-transparency nonprofit Association for Democratic reforms (ADR), said it had become a regular practice for the PM and the ruling party to not obey the poll code, but the EC seems to be helpless. 

“During the Uttar Pradesh assembly election, a similar poll code violation happened when the PM used a television interview for campaigning during the silent period,” he added. 

“But the EC did not respond to the complaint. Day before, Home Minister Amit Shah announced in Madhya Pradesh that the government will take people free of cost to Ayodhya to see the Ram temple if the BJP returned to power.” 

The PM announcing policy decisions in poll-bound states is a clear-cut violation of the poll code, he said.

Lawyer and policy expert Apar Gupta said the Election Commission had become redundant for many reasons. 

“First, they are not able to enforce the MCC for various reasons. Second, in the digital campaigning era, after a self-regulatory digital code was framed, the commission only makes suggestions to social media companies after complaints are made to take down content. Companies several times don’t obey,” he added.

“There is a lot of such digital content that keeps floating without any check and balance. The EC’s rules are not enough to restrict influence on digital campaigning,” he said.

BJP spokesperson Guru Prakash, however, denied there was any violation.

“The extension of Garib Kalyan and scheme for tribals is not restricted to one state,” he said. “The prime minister’s announcement is for the entire country and downtrodden people. It has nothing to do with Madhya Pradesh or Chhattisgarh. The Congress, which has not cared for tribals, has been making noise only due to their incompetence in caring for the tribals and the poor.”  

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: BJP is planning its roadmap for 2024, even 2029. The opposition is still stuck in 2018

Source: The Print

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