AA Edit | Good move to make parties accountable for their stars'

Election Commission Issues Notices to BJP and Congress Presidents for MCC Violations

The decision of the Election Commission of India to issue notices to the presidents of the BJP and the Congress seeking their replies on the complaints it had received alleging violation of its model code of conduct (MCC) in the speeches delivered by the leaders of the two parties, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is a welcome measure and would bolster the faith people have traditionally vested with the poll regulator. This is for the first the time panel has issued a notice, holding the parties responsible for the violation of the code by their star campaigners. The Commission has, however, made it clear that while individual star campaigners would continue to remain responsible for speeches made by them, it will address the party chiefs “on a case-to-case basis”. The panel has ensured that it has acted even-handedly by issuing a notice to the Congress president, too, on alleged violations of MCC by its star campaigner Rahul Gandhi.

The notice to the BJP president was based on complaints registered by the Congress, the CPI(M) and others for the speech the Prime Minister made in Rajasthan on April 21 which, according to the principal Opposition party, contained “completely unprecedented and malicious allegations which are clearly aimed at creating enmity between groups, far worse than any ever made by a sitting Prime Minister in the history of India”. In fact, that speech was disconcerting for all those who believed in the idea of India because Mr Modi sought to drive a wedge between communities by fanning communal feelings. Everyone who had believed in the old school pledge, “all Indians are my brothers and sisters”, wished for a course correction on the part of the person holding the highest post of political power in the country and is looking up to the poll regulator to ensure it.

That the Commission, in its missive to the BJP president, asserted that speeches made by those holding high positions have more serious consequences, reflects the fact that it has taken cognisance of the disquiet Mr Modi’s speech has created among the masses. While it is important that every leader be held accountable not only to the law but also to the people of the country for the language they use and the message they communicate, it becomes more destabilising for the democratic system when people who hold absolute power appear to act as if they need to observe no boundaries.

It does not normally require a rejoinder by the Election Commission for a party boss to realise that the party’s most important campaigners ought to “set high standards of political discourse and observe provisions of the MCC in letter and spirit”, as the EC has said in its notice to the BJP president. They are “expected to contribute to a higher quality of discourse by way of providing an all-India perspective” and hence “their speeches necessarily need to be judged at a higher threshold of compliance”. The EC’s intervention became necessary when the campaigners left the question open as to who will keep the keepers.

The EC decision may hopefully act as a leash on them for the time being. However, there is only so much that the law, rules, regulations and even regulators can do to foster the spirit of democracy, for it is up to the people and their leaders to punish wrongdoers.

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