I was appalled after reading the interview given by the Chief Election Commissioner, N.Gopalswamy on the course of action that the EC can take if they hold those accused of violating the Model Code of Conduct guilty. His answer to the last question in that interview is :
“The code has no legal force. It is a ‘moral’ code created by political parties in the hope that the polity would refine itself. The EC hasn’t mandated it; it has merely been appointed as the arbiter. There is no punishment—only a rebuke is possible.”
I don’t think the CEC is unaware of Paragraph 16A of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968, and the E.C.’s powers under it. Surely, he is not suggesting that it is an illegal Order, even though it may not have enacted by Parliament. Does his interview suggest that the EC is willing to hurt, but not to wound, even if the matter involves a serious violation of the Code, and even threatens the possibility of a fair result? In any case, does not propriety demand that the CEC kept silence on this issue, till the three-member EC deliberated the matter?
The Paragraph, dealing with the power of the Comission to suspend or withdraw recognition of a recognsied political party for its failure to observe model code of conduct or follow lawful directions and instructions of the Commission, is self-explanatory. This Paragraph, added by the former CEC, T.N.Seshan during his tenure, on February 16, 1994, gives the EC the power to suspend or withdraw recognition, which means, it can withdraw the symbols allotted to the parties either temporarily or permanently. It can cause a huge damage to the party’s prospects in the polls, throw the party into disarray. That was the objective of P.16A. That was the intended punishment for violating as solemn a code like the Model Code of Conduct. The code may be voluntary, lacking a legal status, but it is the essence of free and fair elections.
It may sound arbitrary, but let us ask why the E.C. was in such a tearing hurry to seek a reply from Narendra Modi, Sonia Gandhi and others in the midst of the election campaign? The E.C. even fixed a deadline for their replies. And when the replies reached, the E.C. is in no hurry to take the speed with which it issued notices to logical conclusion, either way. It appears, it has no deadline for itself to pronounce a decision. What prevents the E.C. to consider even suspension of the party symbols, if not withdrawal? If the E.C. thinks P.16A is a dead letter, then let it say so, and repeal it through another Order. If the E.C. is doubtful about its powers, let it at least test it out in this case.