After its senior leaders defying Election Commission strictures over the model code of conduct,the Congress-led UPA government has started working quietly on giving the code a statutory backing. If it is successful,complaints pertaining to code violations will go out of the purview of the EC.
The “secret” agenda notes circulated for the seventh meeting of the Group of Ministers (GoM) on corruption,headed by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee,scheduled to be held on February 22,say that the Union Legislative Secretary would make a presentation on the issue of giving statutory shape to executive instructions issued by the EC.
A statutory backing means the code violations would be covered by law and hence be tried in a court rather than being left to the discretion of the Election Commission,as is the case now.
Not surprisingly,the EC,that has had several run-ins with the government in the current round of polls,isnt amused.
If what you have told me is correct,it is a highly misconceived move,aimed at curbing the powers of the EC. The code has stood the test for the last over 20 years and everybody is all praise for the manner in which elections are conducted in the country. The attempt to turn the MCC (model code) into a statutory power seems to be an attempt at curbing the powers of the EC. Once courts get the power to adjudicate whether a politician has committed breach of the MCC,the matter will go on for years while the culprit will enjoy the fruits of power. The public will never allow this, Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi told The Indian Express.
Last week,in the middle of a bitter showdown between the Commission and Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid over the ministers statements about quota for minorities while campaigning,the Congress had tried to give a new twist to the row by seeking statutory backing for the code of conduct.
Without any disrespect towards the Election Commission,which we hold in the highest esteem… time has come,in a wider sweep of electoral reforms,to think about giving the model code of conduct statutory backing… The Election Commission should also revisit its own position on this issue, Congress spokesman Manish Tewari had said.
Sources told The Indian Express that while state funding of elections is one of the terms of reference before the GoM on corruption,the matter of statutory backing would be discussed on February 24. The GoM also comprises Home Minister P Chidambaram,Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar,Defence Minister A K Antony,Law Minister M Veerappa Moily,HRD and Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal,Fertiliser Minister M K Alagiri and Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi.
Khurshid is reportedly a votary of giving statutory backing to the code,advocating inclusion of the issue in the agenda for the GoM. Incidentally,at the last meeting of the group held on September 30,Pranab Mukherjee had opined that the model code was one of the biggest excuses to stall development projects and had accepted Khurshids request to flag this issue and include it in the agenda papers.