Model Code of Conduct (MCC): Its Evolution, Features, Provisions & Criticism

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Model Code of Conduct (MCC)
Model Code of Conduct (MCC)

The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) stands as a bulwark of ethical conduct in India’s electoral landscape, guiding the behavior of political parties and candidates during the elections. By ensuring fair play and equity in elections, it ensures that the sanctity of electoral processes remains paramount. This article of NEXT IAS aims to study in detail the Model Code of Conduct, its evolution, features, needs, effects, significance, and other related aspects.

  • The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India to regulate the conduct of political parties and their candidates in the run-up to elections.
    • These guidelines range from issues related to speeches, polling day, polling booths, portfolios, the content of election manifestos, processions, and the general conduct of the political candidates.
  • The primary objective of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is to ensure that campaigns, polling, and counting proceed in an orderly, transparent, and peaceful manner.
  • The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) helps the Election Commission of India in fulfilling its mandate, given by Article 324 of the Constitution, of supervising and conducting free and fair elections.
Model Code of Conduct (MCC)

The key objectives of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) are:

  • To ensure that elections are free, fair, and transparent, maintaining the integrity and credibility of the electoral process.
  • To keep the campaign fair and healthy, and avoid clashes between parties.
  • To provide a level playing field for all political parties.
  • To ensure that the ruling party does not misuse its official position to gain an unfair advantage in an election.

The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) has evolved with the consensus of political parties to abide by the principles embodied in the said code and to respect and observe it in its letter and spirit. The evolution of the Code, over the years, can be seen as follows:

  • Origin
    • The origin of the MCC dates back to 1960 when a small set of Dos and Don’ts for the Assembly Election in Kerala in 1960.
  • Spread
    • In the 1962 Lok Sabha General Elections, the Commission circulated this code to all the recognized political parties, and the State Governments were requested to secure the acceptance of the Code by the Parties.
    • In 1967, the Code was followed in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.
    • In 1968, the Election Commission held meetings with political parties at the State level and circulated the Code of Conduct to observe minimum standards of behavior to ensure free and fair elections.
    • In 1971-72, during the General Election to the House of the People/State Legislative Assemblies, the Commission circulated the Code again.
    • At the time of general elections to some State Assemblies in 1974, the Commission issued the code of conduct to the political parties in those States.
  • Consolidation
    • In 1979, the Election Commission, in consultation with the political parties further amplified the code, adding a new Section placing restrictions on the “Party in power” to prevent cases of abuse of a position of power to get undue advantage over other parties and candidates
    • In 1991, the code was consolidated and re-issued, which developed and shaped into its present form.
  • Judicial Recognition
    • The MCC has received judicial recognition in the Union of India Vs. Harbans Sigh Jalal and Others case of 2001 wherein the Supreme Court ruled that the Code of Conduct would come into force the moment the Election Commission issues the press release.
      • This ruling laid at rest the controversy related to the date of enforcement of MCC.

The salient features of the Model Code of Conduct lay down how political parties, contesting candidates, and party(s) in power should conduct themselves during the process of elections. They issue necessary guidelines which have been mentioned below:

  • General Conduct during electioneering.
  • Holding meetings and processions.
  • Poll day activities.
  • Appointment of observers.
  • Functioning of the party in power.
  • Election Manifestos.

The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) in India has several significant provisions which include:

  • General Conduct – Political Parties and their candidates are prohibited from engaging in activities that may stoke communal tensions or promote hatred between different groups.
    • Criticism of rival parties should be based on their policies, schemes, and past performances, avoiding personal attacks.
    • Further, places of worship such as temples, mosques, and churches should not be utilized for election propaganda.
  • Meetings – The party or candidate must notify the local police authorities for organizing political meetings and election campaigns for proper management and security and to ensure law and order arrangements.
  • Polling Day – The political party or candidate should collaborate with the polling authorities at the polling booths to ensure the smooth conduct of elections. For example, distribution of food or alcohol near polling stations is prohibited to prevent voter manipulation.
  • Polling Booth – Only authorized individuals with passes from the Election Commission are allowed inside polling booths, apart from the voters.
  • Observers – The Election Commission appoints observers to address complaints or issues raised by political candidates or their agents during the election process.
  • Party in Power – The ruling party is expected to refrain from misusing its official position for electoral advantage, ensuring a level playing field for all candidates.
  • Election Manifesto – The election manifesto shall not contain anything repugnant to the ideals and principles enshrined in the Constitution, and it shall be consistent with the letter and spirit of other provisions of the Model Code of Conduct.
Regulation of Opinion Polls and Exit Polls – The ECI has regulated the conduct of opinion polls and exit polls during the period specified by notifying guidelines to ensure fairness and prevent undue influence on voters.
Prohibition of Advertisements in Print Media – Advertisements in print media are prohibited on polling day and one day before it unless their contents are pre-certified by screening committees to ensure compliance with election norms.
Restriction on Government Advertisements – There is a restriction on government advertisements featuring political functionaries during the election period to prevent the misuse of public funds for political gains and ensure a level playing field for all parties.

The Election Commission announces the scheduled elections in a major press conference a few weeks before the formal process is set in motion. The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) comes into effect immediately after this announcement and remains in force until the announcement of election results. Thus, the Code remains in effect throughout the election process.

Lok Sabha Elections – During the General Elections to the House of People (Lok Sabha), the code is applicable throughout the country.

Legislative Assembly Elections – During the General Elections to the Legislative Assembly (Vidhan Sabha), the code is applicable in the entire State.

Bye-Elections – During the bye-elections, the code is applicable in the entire district or districts in which the constituency falls.

The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) imposes stringent guidelines on ministers, government authorities, and political parties to ensure a level playing field during elections in India. Here’s a summary of the restrictions placed on ministers and other authorities as per the MCC:

  • Ministers and government authorities are prohibited from announcing any new financial grants, projects, or schemes once the election dates are announced.
    • Even the schemes that may have been announced before the MCC came into force, but have yet to take off on the ground, are required to be put on hold.
  • The laying of foundation stones for projects or the initiation of any new schemes is barred after the MCC comes into effect. The objective is to prevent any actions that could influence voter opinion unduly.
  • The use of official machinery, vehicles, and personnel for campaign purposes is strictly forbidden. This ensures that government resources are not used to benefit the ruling party’s electoral prospects.
  • Combining official visits with election campaigning activities is not allowed. Ministers must ensure that their official tours and functions are not used as opportunities for electioneering.
  • Once the elections are announced, ministers cannot sanction grants or make payments from discretionary funds. This prevents the use of government funds to influence voter behavior.
  • Government accommodations and buildings should not be used as campaign offices or for holding election-related public meetings. This rule maintains the neutrality of government spaces during the election period.
  • The MCC prohibits the misuse of official mass media channels for partisan coverage or publicity of the ruling party’s achievements. This ensures that the media remains unbiased and does not influence the electoral process unduly.
  • Issuing advertisements at the cost of the public exchequer in newspapers and other media platforms for election purposes is prohibited. This prevents the misuse of public funds for electoral gains.

The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) has originated and evolved with the consensus of political parties. It does not have any statutory backing and hence is not enforceable by any law.

In 2013, the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law, and Justice suggested making the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) legally binding.

The arguments given by the Committee were as follows:

  • Most of the provisions of the MCC are already contained in various laws and are therefore enforceable.
  • Currently, there is an absence of an immediate appeal mechanism against the decisions of the Returning Officers. The decision can be challenged only after the announcement of election results.

The Election Commission has opposed making MCC legally binding due to practical concerns such as:

  • It argues that elections get completed within a short time frame, typically around 45 days. Legal proceedings usually take longer, making it impractical to enforce MCC through the legislative process.
  • The decision-making power will go to the judiciary and thus the swiftness in dealing with the cases of violation of MCC will be gone.
  • The legal codification of these norms would be a potential nightmare, exposing the entire electoral process to needless litigation.
  • The broad objectives of the MCC are best achieved by the oversight of an impartial election watchdog that can conduct free and fair elections.

Though the MCC is not legally enforceable, there are some existing legal provisions that align with the principles of the MCC and aid in its implementation. Some of such provisions can be seen as follows:

  • The Representation of the People Act (RoPA) of 1951 contains some provisions which align with the implementation of the MCC:
    • Section 8 of the Act deals with disqualification on conviction for certain offenses.
    • Part VII of the Act contains provisions related to Corrupt Practices and Electoral Offences.
  • Certain provisions of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) are mentioned in the existing statutes like the Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860, and Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) 1973.

The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) holds profound significance in the electoral process, ensuring that elections are conducted in a free, fair, and respectful manner. Its importance can be seen as follows:

  • Ensuring Fair Play – The MCC acts as a leveler, ensuring that no political party or candidate has an undue advantage over others. It aims to create a fair competitive environment by restricting the misuse of government power, prohibiting the use of official machinery for campaigning, and ensuring that public resources are not diverted for electioneering purposes.
  • Building Confidence in the Electoral Process – The enforcement of the MCC reassures the electorate that the elections will be conducted impartially, without undue influence from those in power, and that their vote is a crucial and respected component of the democratic process.
  • Promoting Issue-based Campaigning – The MCC encourages political parties and candidates to focus their campaigns on policies, programs, and their track records rather than personal attacks or unfounded allegations against opponents. This emphasis on issue-based campaigning enlightens voters and helps them make informed decisions.
  • Preventing Exploitation of Sectarian Issues – By prohibiting the use of caste, religion, or communal sentiments to seek votes, the MCC ensures that elections do not exacerbate social divisions or lead to communal tension. This is vital for the sustenance of secular and pluralistic democracy.
  • Reducing Electoral Violence – By imposing strict norms on the conduct of political rallies, processions, and gatherings, the MCC helps reduce instances of electoral violence and ensures the safety and security of voters, political workers, and the general public during the election period.
  • Promoting Decency and Decorum – The MCC mandates that political parties and candidates conduct their campaigns with high standards of decency and avoid actions or speech that might incite violence or hatred among different sections of society.
  • Maintaining Public Order – The MCC plays a crucial role in maintaining public order during the election period by setting guidelines for the conduct of political parties and candidates. It helps prevent clashes between supporters of different parties and ensures that electioneering activities do not disrupt normal public life.

Some of the key criticisms of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) are as follows:

  • Enforcement – The MCC lacks legal enforceability and relies primarily on moral persuasion, leading to limitations on governance activities and public spending.
  • Delayed Action and Weak Response – The Election Commission’s response to inappropriate statements by influential political figures has been slow or inadequate, allowing offenders to flout the Model Code of Conduct with impunity.
  • Absence of Disqualification Power – The Election Commission lacks the authority to disqualify candidates engaged in electoral malpractices, limiting its ability to address violations effectively.
  • Inability to Deregister Political Parties – The Election Commission cannot deregister political parties for electoral violations, raising concerns about accountability and consequences for misconduct.
  • Ineffectiveness in Curbing Malpractices – The MCC has failed to prevent various electoral malpractices, including hate speech, fake news, and voter intimidation, exacerbated by challenges posed by new technologies.
  • Criticism of Application Timing – The Election Commission is often criticized for applying the Model Code of Conduct either too early or too late, impacting development initiatives and public welfare programs.
  • Low Awareness and Compliance – The MCC is not widely understood or adhered to by voters, candidates, political parties, and government officials highlighting the need for increased awareness and compliance efforts.

Some measures for effective implementation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) include:

  • Legal Enforcement – There have been calls to make the MCC legally binding by incorporating it into the Representation of the People Act of 1951. This would provide statutory backing to the MCC and enhance its enforceability.
  • Enforcement through Other Measures – While the MCC itself may not have legal enforceability, certain provisions can be enforced by invoking corresponding provisions in other statutes such as the Indian Penal Code of 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure of 1973, and Representation of the People Act of 1951. This enables authorities to take action against violations of the MCC using existing legal frameworks.
  • Law Commission Recommendation (2015) – The Law Commission recommended imposing a ban on government-sponsored advertisements highlighting achievements of the ruling party for up to six months before the expiry of the House/Assembly. This measure aims to prevent the ruling party from gaining an unfair advantage over other parties and candidates.
  • Use of Technology – Leveraging technology, such as AI-based systems, can help monitor and prevent violations of the MCC, particularly on social media platforms where misinformation and propaganda may be disseminated. Implementing technological solutions can enhance the efficiency of MCC enforcement.
  • Independence of ECI – Granting greater independence to the Election Commission, similar to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), would empower it to take more stringent actions for the implementation of the MCC. Strengthening the autonomy of the ECI can enhance its ability to ensure fair and transparent elections.

The Model Code of Conduct is a cornerstone of democratic elections, ensuring fairness, transparency, and integrity in the electoral process. Its success hinges not just on the regulations themselves, but on the collective commitment of political parties, candidates, electoral bodies, and the electorate to uphold the spirit of democracy. As India marches forward on its journey to strengthen democracy, MCC will continue to play a pivotal role. Necessary measures should be taken to give more teeth to this regulation.

What is Model Code of Conduct?

The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India to regulate the conduct of political parties and their candidates in the run-up to elections.

Which is the first State in India to implement the Model Code of Conduct?

Kerala is the first State to implement the Model Code of Conduct in India in its 1960 elections.

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