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EC guideline on promises stumps parties

New Delhi, Feb. 21: The Election Commission has set a condition ahead of the Lok Sabha polls that political parties are finding hard to reject.

In a guideline, the panel has asked parties not to make promises that cannot be fulfilled in election manifestos and laid down that they will have “to indicate the ways and means to meet the financial requirements” of such promises.

The guideline has been added to the model code of conduct that comes into effect after the panel notifies the dates of election.

Although the Congress, BJP and the Left had earlier opposed such a guideline saying their right to decide the content of election manifestos should not be infringed upon, all three appeared to accept it today.

BJP spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said his party did not have a problem. “The BJP never makes unrealistic promises. We will assure the EC that our promises can be realised,” he said.

The CPM, which had been at the forefront of opposition, too appeared to welcome the order. “The EC has issued broad guidelines. They cannot be enforced. We agree with the spirit that political parties should not make unrealistic promises,” politburo member S. Ramchandran Pillai said.

Asked about its earlier opposition to the proposal, he said: “We were opposed to bureaucratic intervention in political propaganda.”

Congress leaders declined comment, saying the party would discuss the issue first. But they hinted the move was likely to be welcomed.

“Our leader Rahul Gandhi is holding discussions with different sections to identify the real issues. The Congress manifesto would reflect the real issues and not make empty promises,” a leader said.

The guideline says that “in the interest of transparency, level playing field and credibility of promises”, the “trust of voters should be sought only on those promises which are possible to be fulfilled”.

Further, it adds: “It is expected that manifestos also reflect the rationale for the promises and broadly indicate the ways and means to meet the financial requirements for it.”

The addition of the guideline implies that complaints on purportedly far-fetched promises can be made before the poll panel, which can then issue notice to a party seeking clarification.

“The Election Commission can issue notice to political parties. If the explanation is not satisfactory, they can be asked to remove the populist promise,” said a poll panel official.

Parties can contest the directive but have to present a convincing defence, he added.

The Election Commission move follows a Supreme Court order last July asking it to frame guidelines to ensure a “level playing field” between contesting parties and candidates. The court was hearing a petition challenging freebies announced by the Tamil Nadu government.

Most parties had then opposed such a guideline. “The Election Commission or even the judiciary has no right to intervene in the contents of the election manifesto. It is the prerogative and the right of the political party and no intervention can be allowed,” the CPM had said in a representation to the panel.