Cabinet showers sops in final meeting before MCC kicks in: What government can and can't do after poll dates are out

The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is a directive principle laid out by the Election Commission of India that holds the political parties and their candidates contesting elections to a minimum standards of behaviour

FP Staff March 07, 2019 15:17:39 IST
Cabinet showers sops in final meeting before MCC kicks in: What government can and can't do after poll dates are out
  • The Union Cabinet, after its last meeting before the poll announcements, signed off a slew of sops and giveaways

  • However, it was a much expected move in face of agitation by members of SC and ST communities

  • Once the MCC kicks in, certain restrictions will be in place on the government to ensure a level playing field for all political parties.

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday signed off a slew of sops and giveaways favouring the middle class, ex-servicemen, SC/ST communities, sugarcane farmers and other important voter groups. Amid other announcements, an Ordinance was approved to restore the earlier '200-point roster system' in university faculty appointments, under which 99 posts were reserved for SC/STs and OBCs.

However, it was a much expected move in face of agitation by members of SC and ST communities, as this was the last Cabinet meeting before the election dates are announced and the Model Code of Conduct kicks in.

This means that this was also the last window in which the government could announce policy decisions hoping to woo the electorate ahead of the high-stakes General Election. Once the MCC kicks in,  certain restrictions will be in place on the government to ensure a level playing field for all political parties.

Cabinet showers sops in final meeting before MCC kicks in What government can and cant do after poll dates are out

Representational Image. News18

The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is a directive principle laid out by the Election Commission of India that holds the political parties and their candidates contesting elections to a minimum standards of behaviour, by defining their dos and don’ts in the electoral battle. The Commission issued the code for the first time in 1971 (fifth election) and revised it from time to time as the MCC evolved with the consensus of political parties and as politicos devised newer ways to sully the poling process.

While it lays down certain generic rules to prevent (as much as possible) our netas from getting down and dirty, it also imposes certain restrictions on the ruling party to prevent it from using the state funds and machinery for its own political ends.

The code comes into effect the moment the Election Commission of India announces the date of elections and stays in place till the day the polling process is completed in all parts of the country. It bars the ruling party from taking any action that could influence, and or, affect the voter in any way.

Most importantly, the government cannot make any new announcements or initiate new projects. However, the government can go ahead and implement whatever announcements it has already made.

This is why it is common to observe marathon public meetings and a flurry of announcements by the ruling party in the time period preceding elections. The sensitivity towards decisions taken towards the fag end of a government's tenure is such that even matters of national security, such as the recent Indian Air Force strike on a terrorist camp is being seen through a political prism by government's opponents, as they accuse the prime minister of using it as a poll plank. Meanwhile, pollsters have also suggested that the recent surgical strike-like action on terror camps have swung public opinion in favour of the ruling party, which was facing a downslide in its popularity as compared to the 2014 wave.

Furthermore, amid other things, the MCC specifically bars the ruling party from using its seat of power for campaign purposes. This means that the organisational costs for prime minister's and cabinet ministers' rallies also should be borne by the party organisation and not the government. Ministers are strictly advised against combining their official visit with electioneering work so that the money for all election-related activity comes from party coffers. Government minister are also not allowed make use of official machinery or personnel during the electioneering work.

Furthermore, a ruling party cannot block public spaces like meeting grounds, helipads, government guest houses and bungalows for its own campaigning purposes. Such resources should be equally shared among the contesting candidates.

However, the extent to which this could be implemented remains to be seen. In the recent past TMC have been accused of withholding permission to land choppers to its political opponents in West Bengal, while the BJP has been accused of booking all helicopters so that Opposition leaders have a hard time figuring out transportation for their rallies.

Legal status of MCC

The MCC is not enforceable by law. However, certain provisions of the MCC may be enforced through invoking corresponding provisions in other statutes such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and Representation of the People Act, 1951.

The Election Commission has argued against making the MCC legally binding, arguing that elections must be completed within a relatively short time (close to 45 days), and judicial proceedings typically take longer, therefore it is not feasible to make it enforceable by law. Another argument made against making MCC binding by law is that often violation charges fly thick and fast as the campaigning gets intense, it will increase the number of frivolous litigations in the courts.

On the other hand, in 2013, the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, recommended making the MCC legally binding since most provisions of the MCC are already enforceable through corresponding provisions in other statutes, mentioned above.

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