No cheating. That really is the substance of the Election Commissionís warning to the Centre and to the five states soon going for assembly elections. Once the election dates had been announced on October 6, any advertisement of the achievements of the ruling government in the media at public expense became a violation of the model code of conduct. By stating this, the EC is not saying anything novel. Yet it had to issue of a series of directives and communications to the Centre, the secretaries of the five states and the secretary of the information and broadcasting ministry in order to drive home the point. This spate of communication was apparently forced upon the EC by the attitude of the information and broadcasting minister, Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad. The minister had felt that this was the appropriate time to celebrate the achievements of the National Democratic Alliance government because it had completed four years in power at the Centre. Unfortunately, the EC disagreed, impelling Mr Prasad to the further indiscretion of declaring that advertisements celebrating four years of NDA rule were not in violation of the code.
It is difficult to believe that Mr Prasad and his colleagues fail to understand the logic of the model code. The repeated display of the achievements of the government in power, funded by the exchequer, gives the ruling party an unfair advantage when elections are in the offing. Public money and the public media cannot be used to ensure that the ruling parties are returned. The EC has also asked the Chhattisgarh bureaucracy to withdraw all photographs of the chief minister, Mr Ajit Jogi, being supplied free with schoolbags by the tribal welfare department of the state. The logic is the same. The apparent obtuseness of Mr Prasad and others of his kind is more deliberate than natural. Mr Prasad on the one hand and the Chhattisgarh government on the other were doing what politicians do best in this country: milk the system ceaselessly for advantage. Calling politicians rascals, as the chief election commissioner has recently done, may not be quite the proper or expected thing to do, but his remarks will have touched a chord in many. The CEC was asking for special laws to restrain politicians, because they are special people. His sarcasm is born of experience and to some extent, of frustration. It is hardly the job of the EC in any country that calls itself civilized to be constantly on the lookout for transgressors of election rules. With the general elections in 2004, the EC must be wondering how many more of these warnings it will have to issue in the coming months.