The Commission on 12th August 2013 held a meeting with representatives of National and State recognized Parties at Nirvachan Sadan, in New Delhi on formulation of guidelines for election manifestos. All the six National parties attended the meeting while, 24 State Parties participated out of 45 who were invited. The meeting was organized to seek their suggestions/views in the wake of the recent judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court which directed the Commission to frame guidelines on Election manifesto in consultation with the recognized political parties, to be included as part of the Model Code of Conduct.
The Chief Election Commissioner, Shri V.S.Sampath explained to the political parties the background. He observed that some political parties had already given their written suggestions/views on the issue while some were yet to give this to the Commission. He requested the remaining political parties to give their views in the matter within a week.
Besides the Chief Election Commissioner , Election Commissioners Shri H.S.Brahma and Dr. Nasim Zaidi also heard the presentation made by the political parties.
The views of the political parties were mainly invited on broad frame work of guidelines on election manifesto and freebies, timing of release of election manifesto by political parties , mechanism for ensuring compliance of guidelines , practicability of implementation of promises of freebies.
Both National and State recognized political parties presented their views before the Commission. The Commission noted these views.
Letter to recognized political parties regarding meeting on election manifesto
Nirvachan Sadan, Ashoka Road, New Delhi-110001
No. 437/6/Manifesto/2013 Dated 02nd August, 2013
The President/General Secretary/Chairperson
of All National and State Parties
Subject:-Judgment dated 5.7.2013 of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in SLP (C) No. 21455 of 2008 and TC No. 112 of 2011-S.Subramaniam Balaji Vs Govt. of TN & Others – framing of guidelines for Election manifestos- reg
I am directed to invite a reference to Commission’s letter No.509/84/2008/RCC dated 8th July, 2013 in the above matter. You may recall that in the said judgment, the Hon’ble Court had directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines on Election manifesto in consultation with the recognized political parties, to be included as part of the Model Code of Conduct.
2. The Commission has fixed a meeting with the representatives of all the recognized National and State Parties on 12th August 2013 at 9.30 AM in the Conference Hall, 4th Floor, Nirvachan Sadan, Ashoka Road, New Delhi for consultation in the matter. You are requested to depute representative(s) on behalf of your Party to participate in the meeting. Owing to space constraints, the National Parties may restrict the number of representatives to two members only and State parties may depute one member each. It will be appreciated if you could intimate in advance the name(s) of representative(s) being deputed for the meeting.
3. The Commission has prepared a “Background Note” on the Election Manifestos, a copy of which is enclosed herewith. You are requested to forward your suggestions/views in the matter preferably before the date of meeting.
(K. AJAYA KUMAR)
A manifesto is generally defined as a published declaration of the intentions, motives or views of an individual, group, political party or government whosoever issues it. A manifesto usually comprises a previously published opinion or public consensus and/or promotes a new idea with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes for future. Oxford dictionary defines manifesto as a public declaration of the policy and aims of a group such as political party. Thus an election manifesto is a published document containing declaration of the ideology, intentions, views, policies and programmes of a political party. The Election Manifestos are generally drafted by the Political Parties keeping an eye on forthcoming elections and are generally published and well publicized.
As already stated above, the election manifesto normally contains the declared ideology of the political Party concerned in general and its policies and programmes for the Country/State and people at large. It therefore serves as a reference document or benchmark for the public at large for what a political party stands for. By comparing the ideologies, policies and programmes of the political parties, the electors can decide which party they should vote for to meet their expectations and aspirations.
It may be mentioned that after independence, elections in our country have been held from the year 1952 onwards. But all the political parties were not used to publishing their ideologies, policies and programmes through the publication of manifestos. Major political parties used to make public their ideologies, policies and programmes not necessarily through manifestos.
However, in recent years many National and State parties are publishing their manifestos for each general election and these manifestos generally contain, in addition to the basic ideology of the parties, major policies, viz Economic Policy, foreign policy, Plans, programmes and issues for governance, if they come to power. These include but are not restricted to measures such as ensuring comprehensive social security to those at special risk , making quality education affordable to everyone, waiving of agricultural loans, pension scheme for aged and helpless farmers, provision of safe drinking water facility and primary healthcare, medical cover for specified categories of people such as widows, old age pensioners, farmers, abolishing of child labour etc. In addition, there is a new trend started by some parties recently, in which they directly promise such items which in common parlance are termed as “Freebies”.
“Freebie” is defined in Webster dictionary as something given without charge. Oxford dictionary defines freebie as something provided or given free of charge. These promises may be aimed at targeted groups of electorate like, BPL families, weaker sections of the society, women, handicapped etc., as well as at electorate as a whole.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court in its judgment/order dated 5th July 2013 in SLP(C) No. 21455 of 2008 has inter alia directed the Election Commission of India to frame guidelines on election manifesto to be included as part of the Model Code of Conduct. The Supreme Court has observed and directed that :
Para (77) of the Supreme Court Judgment:- 77) Although, the law is obvious that the promises in the election manifesto cannot be construed as ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123 of RP Act, the reality cannot be ruled out that distribution of freebies of any kind, undoubtedly, influences all people. It shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree. The Election Commission through its counsel also conveyed the same feeling both in the affidavit and in the argument that the promise of such freebies at government cost disturbs the level playing field and vitiates the electoral process and thereby expressed willingness to implement any directions or decision of this Court in this regard.
Para (78) :-78) As observed in the earlier part of the judgment, this Court has limited power to issue directions to the legislature to legislate on a particular issue. However, the Election Commission, in order to ensure level playing field between the contesting parties and candidates in elections and also in order to see that the purity of the election process does not get vitiated, as in past been issuing instructions under the Model Code of Conduct. The fountainhead of the powers under which the commission issues these orders is Article 324 of the Constitution, which mandates the commission to hold free and fair elections. It is equally imperative to acknowledge that the Election Commission cannot issue such orders if the subject matter of the order of commission is covered by a legislative measure.
Para (79):- 79) Therefore, considering that there is no enactment that directly governs the contents of the election manifesto, we hereby direct the Election Commission to frame guidelines for the same in consultation with all the recognized political parties as when it had acted while framing guidelines for general conduct of the candidates, meetings, processions, polling day, party in power etc. In the similar way, a separate head for guidelines for election manifesto released by a political party can also be included in the Model Code of Conduct for the Guidance of Political Parties & Candidates. We are mindful of the fact that generally political parties release their election manifesto before the announcement of election date, in that scenario, strictly speaking, the Election Commission will not have the authority to regulate any act which is done before the announcement of the date. Nevertheless, an exception can be made in this regard as the purpose of election manifesto is directly associated with the election process.
Para (80) :- 80) We hereby direct the Election Commission to take up this task as early as possible owing to its utmost importance. We also record the need for a separate legislation to be passed by the legislature in this regard for governing the political parties in our democratic society.
The current model code of conduct contains some relevant provisions on corrupt practices by parties and candidates and related to promise by the party in power etc. They are reproduced below:-
Sub-para (4) of Para I. General Conduct stipulates that –
“(4) All parties and candidates shall avoid scrupulously all activities which are “corrupt practices” and offences under the election law, such as bribing of voters, intimidation of voters, impersonation of voters, canvassing within 100 meters of polling stations, holding public meetings during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the close of poll, and the transport and conveyance of voters to and from polling station”.
Para VII. Party in Power stipulates inter alia that –
The party in power whether at the Centre or in the State or States concerned, shall ensure that no cause is given for any complaint that it has used its official position for the purposes of its election campaign and in particular-
(v) Ministers and other authorities shall not sanction grants/payments out of discretionary funds from the time elections are announced by the Commission; and
(vi)From the time elections are announced by the Commission, Ministers and other authorities shall not –
Announce any financial grants in any form or promises thereof; or
(b) (except civil servants) lay foundation stones etc., of projects or schemes of any kinds; or
(c) Make any promise of construction of roads, provision of drinking water facilities etc; or
(d) Make any ad-hoc appointments in Government, Public Undertakings etc., which may have the effect of influencing the voters infavour of the party in power.
Information on international practices, that could be gathered from two international organizations and seven election management bodies, in response to a set of questions circulated to more than 30 organisations, has been compiled and is attached as Annexure.
(a) Guiding principles for framing guidelines
The Supreme Court in its judgment has directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines for the contents of election manifestos in consultation with all the recognized political parties. The guiding principles which will lead to framing of such guidelines are quoted below from the judgment:-
In the light of aforesaid observations of the Hon”ble Supreme Court, it is important to recognize the public perception of the electorate in this country to promises of freebies.
Points for suggestions from political parties.
The Election Commission of India is an autonomous constitutional authority responsible for administering election processes in India. The body administers elections to the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies in India, and the offices of the President and Vice President in the country. The Election Commission operates under the authority of Constitution per Article 324, and subsequently enacted Representation of the People Act.
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