Explained: What does the law on poll code violation have to say
In the past 48 hours, both the BJP and Congress have accused each other of violating the model code of conduct in Gujarat. The BJP took objection to a television interview by Rahul Gandhi while Congress questioned the road show by Prime Minister Narendra Modi after he cast his vote in the Gujarat assembly elections.
The Election Commission of India has said that it would look into both complaints. The EC would have to deal with these complaints under Section 126 of the Representation of Peoples' Act, 1951. Let us take a look at what the law has to say in this regard.
What is Section 126 of the Representation of Peoples' Act, 1951?
Election campaigns are meant to run under the provisions of the Model Code of Conduct. One of the limitations is Section 126 of the RP Act. The original provision prohibited organising, attending and addressing public meetings or processions in the 48 hours preceding voting.
In the year 1996, the scope of the section was expanded. Now it also prohibits display of election matter by means of cinematograph, television or other similar apparatus" and the holding of musical or theatrical performances or entertainment programmes with the intention of influencing voters 48 hours ahead of voting. Violations can be punished with a prison term of up to two years or a fine, or both.
What is the 48 hour period?
The 48 hour period or 'election silence' is to allow a voter of a campaign free environment so that he or she can reflect on the events before casting the vote. This provision is also in force in countries such as Pakistan, Nepal and the UK.
What does the section say on public meetings, press conferences etc during election silence?
The section does not prevent a candidate, politician or political party from holding public meetings, processions, press conferences or interviews outside the constituencies which are about to vote. This is why, in a multi-phase Assembly election, politicians continue to campaign in those parts of the state that are not going to polls in the next 48 hours.
What about the telecast of interviews, press conferences etc?
Section 126 doesn't empower the EC to act in such cases. This is a legal loophole that has been exploited by politicians. Politicians very often hold press conferences, release a manifesto or hold big events outside the constituency which goes to polls. The legal loophole is exploited knowing fully well that the event would be broadcast everywhere.
To overcome this loophole the ED had approached the government asking if transmission signals could be blocked in a state of parts of it. However the Information and Broadcasting ministry said that it was not possible to implement the same.
In 2014, the Congress took objection to the telecast of the road show by Narendra Modi in Varanasi just before he filed his nomination. It was said that voting was underway in 117 constituencies in 11 states and one Union Territory for the 6th phase of the elections. The EC however did not act on the complaint stating that the roadshow was held outside a poll going state.
In the same year, Modi held a press conference near a polling booth in Gujarat after casting his vote. He even displayed his party's symbol. This time around the EC ordered an FIR against Modi while stating that it was a clear violation of Section 126 of the RP act.