Notwithstanding seven decades' of election campaigns the current election campaign for the 2019 election is in a state of catharsis. The political parties fighting the elections led by the two national parties appear to have forsaken all norms of acceptable behavior and campaigning dignity. Unsubstantiated charges against opponents are flung about without a care about their veracity. Abusive language that was used with caution in the past is now the order of the day. Sadly the leaders of the two national parties have crossed all bounds of decency and probity by indulging in abusive language against their principal opponents. This example has trickled down to their rank and file. The dynasty which could have learned a lesson from the 2014 election where calling the Gujarat Chief minister the 'maut ka saudagar' not only backfired in a big way but opened the floodgates for abusive language against top opponents. The crown prince topped it all by accusing the prime minister "desh ka chowkidar chor hai". The prime minister instead of maintaining his dignity went several steps further by accusing past generations of misconduct and much else. The most ill-considered statement by the prime minister "are the nukes for divali" lowered the image of the country and the office of the prime minister. In sum none of the top leaders have shown that they have the stature to aspire to statesmanship. As a saving grace there are several leaders of states and in the political parties who have refrained from lowering their standard. The Orissa chief minister is an example of the latter. The election commission does not seem to have covered itself with glory either. While charges have been leveled of favouring the governing dispensation the impression in the mind of the general public remains that the Commission did not scrupulously adhere to the model code of conduct.
In the light of the above it becomes imperative for the Election Commission and the President of India to enunciate model codes of conduct as soon as possible after the election results have been declared and in the case of the President even before inviting anyone to form the government. Some thoughts that need to be taken into account are outlined below;
President of India: Once the new parliament is formed with the pro tem speaker in the chair the President calls upon newly elected members and their leaders to solemnly declare that disruption of parliament would be eschewed; un-parliamentary language will not be allowed by the speaker and that all members would undertake to attend at least 40 percent of parliament sittings.
Election Commission: The Model Code of Conduct would be strengthened to Include, inter alia, immediate warning to any candidate using un-parliamentary language; leaders of political parties or any candidate using abusive language would be immediately disqualified from contesting that election, (it would be ensured that disqualification does not take place from hearsay but after a thorough enquiry); Offensive language against any minority or for that matter against any religion would lead to automatic disqualification as well.
The Incoming Government: The collegium for selection of the Chief Election Commissioner should be extended to the other two election commissioners as well.
Supreme Court: based on the level of degradation that was reached in the current election and the impairment of India's national image that has resulted will suo motu take note of the Code of Conduct enunciated by the Election Commission for future elections and the conduct of parliament and monitors implementation from time to time.
In this regard letter sent to a former chief election commissioner over a decade ago remains relevant. (Source "Revitalising Indian Democracy". © General Vinod Saighal, Gyan Publishing House, published in 2012, released by late Justice J S Verma).
DEGENERATION OF THE POLITICAL CLASS. (Mail to the CEC)
It is time to fairly and squarely confront the question posed in the subject heading without further delay. A stage has been reached where there is scant doubt in the minds of the general public that the national interest and, more importantly, national security are being undermined in the interest of vote bank politics, political compulsions of coalition governments and even downright political skullduggery. None of the parties are above this downslide. A point has now been reached where instead of being apologetic or shamefaced, political leaders brazenly justify their actions by blaming the opposition for having carried out similar acts whilst in government. While the rest of the world endeavours to go in for 'best practices', the Indian Political Class, almost without exception, benchmarks its actions against 'worst practices'. That national interest and, lately, even national security are being undermined for short-sighted, short-term political gains is now a given. Very few people in India doubt this. The question before the country is as to how far the Election Commission, the Judiciary, responsible government officials and the Citizens of India will continue to acquiesce in activities that are clearly assuming an anti-national hue. As an illustration, the freedom enjoyed by Mr.Shahabuddin, the MP from Siwan in Bihar with 42 charges against him could be a case in point. As if the earlier charges against the hon'ble MP were not enough, raids carried out recently reportedly revealed the possession of illegal weapons, including automatic weapons and Night Vision Device (NVD). Almost everybody from the defense or intelligence fraternities would confirm that a NVD is not easy to come by for individuals; these are normally provided by intelligence agencies of countries that are up to no good. It should not require much guesswork to appreciate how the NVD in question might have come into the possession of the concerned individual. In any other country federal agents would have been swarming over the entire area in minutes and hours. Not so in India. In this particular case, the Governor probably had other priorities. So possibly had the Centre that appointed him. Where does one go from here?
First of all, there is a need to take the worst practices hypothesis to its logical conclusion. A chief minister of a state who was obliged to demit office on account of the charges against him has, without any qualms, subsequently been given charge of one of the most important ministries in the central government, which he could with impunity use to influence the forthcoming elections in his state. The justification given being that there was no legal bar against it and that the previous government had indulged in similar practices. The question then arises as to why Mr. Shahabuddin - an elected MP with 42 cases against him, prior to the discovery of sophisticated weaponry from
questionable sources - cannot be made the Home Minister, Defense Minister, or even the Prime Minister, since the worst case hypothesis holds that there would be no legal bar against it.
It is possible to go on in this vein to show that unless the CEC and the Judiciary suo motu take steps to intervene directly and decisively on behalf of the public interest, which in this case coheres with the security of India, the country may yet live to rue inaction. To begin with, it is recommended that the CEC takes action to ensure that the present dispensation in Bihar is firmly kept away from the election process, which should be controlled directly by the CEC or by neutral advisors appointed directly under a judicial mandate. Meanwhile, a reference could be made to the Supreme Court to review the entire process of tainted individuals holding office as the political class might already have come under the sway of criminal elements, who might be in a position to blackmail high ranking functionaries and political leaders. The matter has to be attended to with dispatch. There is no time to lose.
Mr. B.B. Tandon, Chief Election Commissioner