Free and fair elections form the bedrock of democracy. In order to have a level playing field for the contestants and all parties to present their policies and programmes to voters, certain principles are needed to guide the stakeholders. In line with the principle of free and fair polls, the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) gains relevance. The Election Commission of India (ECI) is the top regulator of elections in India and looks after each and every process of MCC.
The MCC intends to provide a level playing field for all political parties, keep the campaign fair and healthy, avoid clashes and conflicts between parties, and ensure peace and order. It aims to ensure that the ruling party, either at the Centre or in the states, does not misuse its official position to gain an unfair advantage in an election.
The origin of the MCC dates back to 1960 when it was started as a small set of Dos and Don ts for the Assembly election in Kerala. The MCC broadly covers general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day, polling booth, observers, the party in power, guidelines on election manifesto.
The general conduct includes barring any party or candidate is supposed to be engaged in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic. This assumes significances as India is a land of diversity and mutual respect is cardinal for the society.
Criticism of other political parties shall be confined to their policies and programme, past record and work. The MCC prohibits parties and candidates for criticism of all aspects of private life, not connected with the public activities of the leaders or workers of other parties.
For the party in power, there are important guidelines considering the fact that they enjoy a certain advantage having a seat on power and government machinery.
The MCC requires that the party in power, whether at the Centre or in any state concerned, ensure that no cause is given for any complaint that it has used its official position for the purposes of its election campaign. In particular, the Ministers are supposed not to combine their official visit with electioneering work. Government transport including official aircraft, vehicles, machinery and personnel shall not be used for the furtherance of the interest of the party in power.
Apart from the above guidelines, the MCC guides parties and candidates to follow all procedures during the election phase. From taking permission for meetings, processions to following the guidelines and notices of the election observers, MCC is a complete regulatory mechanism intended for free and fair elections in the country.
The Code of Conduct kicks in the day the ECI announces the poll dates, which is based on an agreement between the ECI and the government reached in 2001. However, the agreement imposes a condition on the ECI that the announcement cannot be more than three weeks before the date of notification of polls and it was agreed that the inauguration of any project would be done by civil servants so that the MCC does not stand in the way of public interest.