The Election Commission deserves credit for adjusting the code of conduct for by-elections
The Election Commission is going to tweak the enforcement of the model code of conduct in the upcoming by-polls in 28 constituencies. The model code of conduct is a set of norms which political parties and candidates agree to abide by in the run-up to an election. It is meant to ensure that the ruling party gets no extra advantage over the others,and that the governments powers and prerogatives are not used in any way to tilt the field. This includes the transfer of officers,the use of official perks,government guest houses,vehicles,advertisements or special schemes to buff the ruling partys aura. It applies to the whole country for a general election and to the whole state in the case of an assembly election. For a by-election,it has so far been imposed on the entire district in which the constituency is situated,plunging surrounding areas in limbo.
Now,in response to requests by many states,the EC has decided to confine the code to the actual by-poll constituency,rather than the whole district. It has,on an experimental basis,allowed NREGA,relief work,projects relating to water supply,agricultural inputs,etc.,to carry on uninterrupted in adjoining areas. This is a welcome delinking of the code from development and policy work,it does not rupture this process for an entire district just because of one poll-bound constituency. Instead of focusing strictly on code compliance,the EC has pragmatically tempered its approach,and accommodated the real needs of the electorate. This is a heartening first step towards separating the ongoing work of development from self-interested freebie schemes that various governments may be tempted to roll out though how these insights will be applied at the state and national level remains to be seen. Hopefully,this is only the beginning of other small improvements and reforms. For instance,in the recent assembly elections,Punjab had to wait patiently for a month after voting,until the whole exercise was concluded. Could the EC find a way to fix this situation?
The Election Commission deserves full credit for keeping our elections free and fair,for zealously intervening to curb the distortions of money and power. Now,it is also clear that the EC is capable of being limber,of adjusting its rule book when faced with an obvious hitch in its workings.