Don’t Mix Up The Model Code With A Moral Code

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What can be more ironical and hypocritical in these farcical times than the fact that a lady candidate’s allegedly khaki underwear has become the symbol of the ECI’s Model Code of Conduct? All channels and print media have gone apoplectic with their coverage of Mr. Azam Khan’s statement and denounced him for it. And condemned he should be, not only for the sewage tank between his ears, but also for the vulgarity of his tongue. But in our obsession with his crudity are we not losing the plot? Are we not replacing a Model code of Conduct with a moral one and thereby allowing the violators of the first to get away by concentrating too much on the second?

The Election Commission’s Model Code is meant to ensure that the elections are fought fairly, that campaigning does not appeal to religion or incite hatred or violence, that no illegal or impermissible gratification is held out to the voter, and most important, that the govt. of the day does not use its vast powers or discretion to seduce, threaten or intimidate the voter or other political parties. The colour of one’s underwear or a vivid description of one’s lineage certainly does not do any of these things.  (In fact, I read somewhere that one lady candidate from the south has been allotted a pair of panties as her election symbol , though its colour I believe has not been specified !)

I therefore submit that what Mr. Azam Khan said, reprehensible as it is, does not amount to a violation of the Model Code. It is only a continuation of the sexist mentality and gutter language employed by our political leaders and Parliamentarians towards women all along. And it is not the purpose of the Model Code to improve the character of our politicians, which in most cases is beyond redemption. Given the complete breakdown of of political discourse it is par for the course to call somebody a “chor” or to call somebody a ” mother****” ( as a leading politician in HP referred to Rahul Gandhi recently) or threaten a community to vote for a particular candidate or else. In fact, I personally find nothing wrong in Mayawati asking Muslims to vote for her alliance or, at the other end of the spectrum, Maneka Gandhi warning the same community to vote for her or else their work would not be done post elections. Taking umbrage at these comments is pure hypocrisy and two-faced sanctimoniousness.

Targeting castes, communities, religions and assorted vote blocks is the very essence of Indian elections. It is what “alliances” are all about, it is the criteria which determines in large measure the selection of candidates, it is the guiding spirit of manifestos and promises. There is, of course, a very thin veneer of talk of “development” to disguise this opportunistic nucleus of communalism and casteism, but it fools nobody: the entire thrust of all campaigning is the wooing of these disparate constituencies. So what is wrong with Mayawati telling Muslims to consolidate their votes against the BJP? Or with Maneka Gandhi issuing a word of caution to her Muslim voters? After all, all electioneering is transactional- you vote for me and I will get your work done- whether it is deporting Muslim” infiltrators”, or stopping sealing in Delhi, or giving a farm loan waiver, or reducing GST or waiving off corporate loans, or promising to build a Ram mandir. All Maneka Gandhi did was to cast off this patina of self serving hypocrisy and call a spade a shovel, as she is wont to do. 

My sincere advice to the ECI, which has plumbed the depths of sycophancy by suspending an IAS officer in Odisha for having the rare courage( these days) to do his duty, is to delink the moral from the model in its election Code, to ignore the first and focus on the second which is where the substantive violations take place. Let those who feel “abused” and “insulted” in these dystopic times sue their calumners in a civil court, file criminal cases or change the colour of their underwear, as the case may be. The Commission should stop running around like a headless chicken after red herrings and concentrate on the REAL violations- the misuse of the Income Tax and Enforcement Deptt. in organising raids on only opposition politicians, the continued appeals of the Prime Minister for votes in the name of our soldiers, the persistent malfunctioning of EVMs, the extremely shady goings on in NAMO TV, the rising crescendo of missing voters from  voting lists, the discovery of hundreds of voter ID cards from a drain in Delhi, the mystery of the black box in the PM’s chopper, the spiralling polling violence in West Bengal, the serial offences of Yogi Adithyanath ( the day after his 72 hour ban ended he was at it again by calling a Muslim candidate ” Babur ki aulad.” It has been found terribly wanting in this sphere of responsibility. It should not expend its energy and resources on chasing what are ethical violations and have little effect on how a citizen votes. Concentrate on the real issues, gentlemen, and do not give the appearance of being busy with frivolities while the whole election is being hijacked from under your re-employed noses. Your job is to conduct a fair election and not to protect reputations or reform degenerate characters. Let the voter be the judge of that.

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

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