DIGITAL MODEL CODE OF CONDUCT!
One term which one keeps talking about even before the elections are announced and even after the final conclusion of the elections, is model code of conduct. It has over the years turned out to be the central spine of the Indian elections and thus a critical element of our democracy. Lot of mechanisms have been created so that this code of conduct can be enforced both in word and in spirit. Sanctity of the elections is dependent on this exercise. Justice should be done and it should seem to be done as well. Any lacuna is bound to reach the courts, bringing ignominy to the constitutionally mandated election body, as we saw in assembly elections last year, as we were getting into the second wave of COVID-19. Does the model code of conduct take full control of what it is meant for?
T N Seshan had put a new lease of life in the Election Commission of India, as the Chief Election Commissioner. He brought in monumental changes to redefine the meaning of this organization in the election / democracy landscape of the nation. The final message was that he understood the election ecosystem and also the political and the governance one and had the capability to deliver conduct of elections; completely free, fair and impartial, which could not have been guaranteed till then in a transparent manner. The political parties felt the heat for the first time and so did the administrative machinery. The same system has continued to this day with creaks and crevices developing over time, with changing personalities leading the ECI and the general political -governance climate.
Election Code of Conduct is a tool to make elections truly democratic and to provide a level playing field to all parties and candidates. It would limit all extraneous influences. The whole process would be enforced by the ECI. At the core of it, is electioneering, an euphemistic term for a thousand and one ways of cajoling the masses /voters. The present MCC was relevant when it was created. Has the digital age not put it on its head? Is geography of final relevance to campaigning? Has the Digital Age with social media and designer use of electronic media not changed the basic mechanics of electioneering? Can the ECI in all fairness say that the Digital Model Code of Conduct has not become a necessity? Added to that, how can a country be relieved of the feeling of going to elections, whenever any state or group of states go to the polls? Is there a digital solution!
The challenge is that on the one side there is small geography, on the other side is the world of electronic / social media blitzkrieg. One side would be 60-70 assembly seats, the other side is a targeted campaign focused on it, from outside that area and even after campaigning gets officially over. A top leader having an interview live on national media, after the campaigning has got over. Is targeted interview not an electioneering tool? There are various other methods that have been perfected, which by the letter of the code, is allowed to happen. In reality it is outright campaigning, might be more effective than the jurisdictional physical one. Digital hoodwinking is the name of the game. How do we control the IT Cells of parties, spreading venom through tools totally outside the control of the ECI? Digital propaganda with manipulation has to be dealt differently. Do we have the election tech required to control this malaise? With digital physical spaces merging seamlessly at times, it has become all the more challenging. It is time for ECI to come to terms with this reality. Democratic spirit has to prevail!
WITHOUT DEEP PENETRATION INTO THE ELECTRONIC / DIGITAL ELECTIONEERING MACHINE, THE MODEL CODE OF CONDUCT SCRAPES THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG.