A day before counting in the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections, the Election commission on Sunday decided to set up a committee having representation from three union ministries to examine provisions of Representation of People Act and the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) about provisions relating to last 48 hours before polling in the wake of challenges posed by fast-changing technologies.
The poll panel also simultaneously withdrew its notice of December 13 to Congress President Rahul Gandhi for allegedly giving election-related interviews to TV channels a day prior to the second phase of polling in Gujarat. It wrote to the Chief Electoral Officer of Gujarat to “abate” further action on its letter of December 13.
In letters to both Congress and BJP, the Election Commission told them about the committee it has decided to set up and advised them to not mention henceforth any election matter pertaining to area going for poll during the prohibited period of 48 hours.
The committee will have representation from the Election Commission, the Law, Information and Broadcasting and Electronics and Information Technology Ministries besides the National Broadcasters Association and Press Council of India to examine the relevant provisions in “the prevailing context of communication technologies and suggest required changes”.
The Election Commission said that the matter will be taken up with all stakeholders including political parties and media houses for their views to recommend appropriate modification in law and the commission’s instructions.
In its notice to Rahul Gandhi, the commission had said that it had received complaints that “on some TV channels interview given by you has been/is being displayed about elections” to Gujarat assembly. It had asked him to respond by December 18. It has also instructed the Gujarat CEO to lodge FIR against the TV channels that telecast his interview.
The Congress had on December 14 complained to the Election Commission about “a road show” undertaken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi after he cast his vote here during the second phase of the Gujarat Assembly polls.
In its letters to the Congress and BJP, the poll panel said it believes that “due to multi-fold expansion of digital and electronic media, the extant Model Code of Conduct, Section 126 of RP Act, 1951 and other related provisions require revisiting to cater to the requirement and challenges of the present and emerging situations” and that it will seek suggestions for necessary modification in existing provisions.
The poll panel’s letter to the BJP referred to Congress allegations against Modi, Union Ministers Arun Jaitley and Piyush Goel, BJP chief Amit Shah and party leader chief Jitu Baghnani for alleged violation of MCC. The commission noted that report of Gujarat CEO was obtained on the allegations and BJP leaders had also given point-wise reply.
It noted that there was no time limit in the MCC for release of election manifesto by political parties.