One model code of conduct. Two farmer support schemes. Two different standards. At least that is what the Biju Janata Dal, the party that is in power in Odisha, is arguing. The party claims that the Election Commission in Odisha has ordered the state government not to release any additional money under its Kalia scheme, an income support programme for small farmers. Yet the Central Election Commission has permitted the Union government to release as much as Rs 19,000 crore under the PM-Kisan scheme, in the middle of election season.
How is that fair? “If on one hand, the BJP’s PM-Kisan Yojana, which is a similar process and came much after the Kalia Yojana, is being allowed, then why are Kalia funds stopped,” asked Biju Janata Dal spokesperson Sasmit Patra.
The question is valid. The Model Code of Conduct is a set of guidelines that evolved with the consensus of political parties and is meant to ensure a level playing field for all. It specifically tries to prevent parties in power from abusing their status to influence voters.
Where does being able to give a cash handout fit into this? The Election Commission of India seems to have decided that, as long as the Union government had identified beneficiaries before March 10 when the model code came into effect, it can release money to them under PM-Kisan, a farmer income support scheme that was only announced in the Budget in February.
This approach sees the cash handout not as a “new project” from the government, but delivery of an existing scheme, since it had been announced and beneficiaries identified before the model code. From one angle, this makes sense, though some might take issue anyhow with a scheme that allows government to put money in people’s hands right before voting.
That appears to be the exact view taken by the Odisha Election Commission, which is not allowing the state government to release money to beneficiaries, even if they have been identified well before March 10. Odisha’s Chief Electoral Officer did not deny this ruling on Tuesday, a day after the Biju Janata Dal complained about it.
Although one could argue on both sides – whether cash handouts during election season should be permitted – having two different standards for practically the same programme is clear discrimination. Either cash handouts for pre-identified beneficiaries are permitted during the model code, or they are not. Why should the BJP be treated differently from the BJD?
The Election Commission of India needs to take note of this obvious discrepancy and address the matter immediately, or else it risks being accused of partisanship.
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