The Congress has opposed the Election Commission’s (EC) proposal to ensure that manifestos are released at least 72 hours before voting ends in the first phase of elections, The Indian Express has learnt.
Till Thursday, a total of five political parties — Samajwadi Party, AIADMK, Communist Party of India, Lok Janshakti Party and the Indian National Congress — had shared their feedback on the Commission’s proposal to amend the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) “to fix a timeline, by way of an outer time limit, for the release of manifesto by political parties in an election, to maintain the sanctity of Section 126” of the Representation of the People (RP) Act. All except the Congress are learnt to have supported the amendment.
Section 126 of the RP Act embodies “election silence”, which prohibits any form of poll campaign in the last 48 hours leading up to voting. Currently, there is no stipulation on the timing of manifesto launch for political parties.
Interestingly, in 2014, when the BJP released its Lok Sabha election manifesto on the day of voting in the first phase, it was the Congress that had complained to the EC stating this would influence voters. The Commission, at that time, was unable to act since the MCC is silent on the timing of manifesto release.
As first reported by The Indian Express on February 6, the Commission had reached out to all national and state political parties for their views after accepting the recommendations of a 14-member committee, which had been set up by the EC last year to revisit the MCC, Section 126 of the RP Act, in the wake of rapid expansion in the media. In its letter, written on January 22, parties had time till January 31 to respond. The deadline was then extended to February 18, by which time only five parties had shared their feedback.
The report was submitted to Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa on January 10. The panel was headed by Deputy Election Commissioner Umesh Sinha and has nine officers from the Commission and one nominated member each from the I&B Ministry, Law Ministry, IT Ministry, National Broadcasters Association and Press Council of India.
The proposed amendment — a new item to be inserted under Part VIII of MCC — reads, “If a party or candidate intends to release election manifesto in connection with any election, the same should be released latest by 72 hours prior to the hour fixed for conclusion of poll for the election. In case of multi-phase election, the release should be latest by 72 hours prior to the hour fixed for conclusion of poll for the first phase. Manifesto should not be released after this cut-off time.”