The Election Commission of India said on Monday that it would meet on Tuesday to decide on complaints that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah and Congress president Rahul Gandhi have violated the model code of conduct – the guidelines parties and candidates must follow in the interests of ensuring that the polls are conducted in a free and fair manner.
The timing of the announcement on Monday evening was curious given that the Supreme Court is on Tuesday set to hear a case filed against the commission by the Congress. The Congress has alleged that the Election Commission has dallied on complaints against the prime minister for weeks, even as it has gone ahead and acted against other politicians.
Usually, when the Supreme Court or a High Court is seized of a matter, the Election Commission avoids making an intervention. However, the commission claimed on Monday that its decision to hold its Tuesday meeting was made much before the Supreme Court took up the matter.
Thus far, the commission’s handling of complaints against top leaders of the ruling BJP has left much to be desired. When the model code of conduct was imposed in March, the commission made it clear that candidates were expected to avoid mentioning the armed forces in their campaigns in an attempt to derive political mileage from them. However, the central theme Modi’s campaign has been the February Pulwama attacks on a Central Reserve Police Force convoy and the subsequent Indian Air Force strike on Pakistan.
Modi has used every opportunity to bring up the military operations to paint the Congress as a party that is weak on issues of national security. The Election Commission should ideally should have initiated suo motu proceedings against these statements. It is not clear why the full commission needs to make a decision about this matter when other complaints of model code violations have been acted upon at a lower level. This raises the question of equality before law.
The Election Commission’s independence as a constitutional authority stems from its responsibility to ensure that poll contestants do not abuse their political and money power. Earlier this month, it took the Supreme Court to remind the commission that it has strong legal powers to act against violators. It has taken the threat of another court intervention for the commission to move decisively on complaints against the prime minister.
Four phases of the Lok Sabha elections have been completed and the BJP’s campaign message about the military operations has taken deep root in the voter psyche. It is clear that the Election Commission’s decision to consider the complaints against Modi and Shah has come far too late.