Call me old fashioned, but there are few things I find more exciting than an election. This year, with the national battle tilting towards a BJP Vs AAP contest (voters seem to have already given Rahul Gandhi a participation certificate and sent him home with a tiffin) we can be sure that many stupid things will be said, violence will be commonplace and dirty tricks will be deployed to win voter sympathy. It’s for that reason that the Election Commission of India deploys a Model Code of Conduct for political parties. In short, the idea is to regulate the kind of things political parties can say and do close to election date in order to prevent the voter from being unfairly influenced.
While the list is long, let’s look at some examples of guidelines laid out in this model code of conduct. First, no party or candidate shall include in any activity, which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic. Second, criticism of other parties or their workers based on unverified allegations or distortion shall be avoided.
Third, there shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes. You get the idea. The BJP and AAP welcomed this code on its first day by beating each other up across three cities with lathis and jhadoos while Kejriwal had his convoy attacked in Gujarat. Safe to say it will only get worse.
What’s sad is that even though we expect the model code of conduct to be followed, no one is really surprised that it isn’t. Things like respecting your opponents private lives, not using religious institutions to spread propaganda, not attacking other people based on their caste and creed isn’t something that should just be enforced close to election, it should be something that each party should follow anyway. Except if our political parties started taking these guidelines seriously, they probably wouldn’t know what to do with their time. What do we expect them to do? Have civilized debates in public forum about policies and agree to disagree on differences? What kind of banana republic does that? If people don’t beat each other up on the streets or raise communal tensions, how would one ever generate sympathy for ones party?
How would one constantly be featured in the mainstream media? What’s the fun if you can’t make unproven allegations against your political opponents? If you can do that on Koffee with Karan why not during elections?
I feel bad for our Election Commission. They have one of the hardest jobs on the planet but they execute it efficiently without any fuss. Sadly even the Model Code of Conduct is now being used by partieis as a political tool to settle scores with opponents by pinning them on technicalities instead of adhering to it in spirit. The 2014 election is going to be one of India’s most historic but much like India, expect more dirt, grime and chaos to be floating everywhere before you make it to the polling booth.