Years ago, when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was in power at the Centre, it launched the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. This nomenclature, as is obvious, is politically neutral. Several schemes launched by the present government in Madhya Pradesh also carry politically neutral names and are called Mukhya Mantri Yojanas. The Election Commission ought to commend this model to all governments in the larger interests of democracy and to ensure fair and objective conditions for all political players.
Part VII of the Model Code of Conduct drafted by the Election Commission says, “The party in power, whether at the Centre or in the State shall ensure that no cause is given for any complaint that it has used its official position for the purposes of its election campaign.” It prohibits ministers from misusing official machinery “in furtherance of the interest of the party in power”. They are not to issue advertisements at the cost of the public exchequer or do anything “which may have the effect of influencing the voters in favour of the party in power.” In other words, the code prohibits a party in power from using its “official position” for its election campaign and this includes anything associated with the Government — vehicles, personnel, propaganda. The key injunction is that nothing should be done which would amount to “influencing the voters in favour of the party in power.” If this be so, how can the commission possibly allow the ruling Congress to name schemes worth over Rs 1 Lakh Crores after just three members of a single family who are icons of that political party?
It is surprising how such a glaring misuse of Government machinery and public funds for partisan political purposes has not caught the attention of the Election Commission which has always displayed alacrity in disciplining political parties. Given the commission’s rigid and inflexible approach to even minor violations by other parties, should it not take immediate steps to correct the imbalance that the Congress has brought about through this Machiavellian device?
In fact, the commission has specifically stressed the importance of “a level playing field” among all political parties in several of its orders and decisions. It said so when a complaint was made against the Union Minister Mr Arjun Singh in April, 2006. It said the Government should not disturb “the level playing field among the political parties in the election arena.” It said persons in power should not only uphold the Code of Conduct “but should also be perceived to be doing so.” The question that now arises is that if every other Government scheme or project is named only after icons of the Congress, how can the public “perceive” the ruling party to be upholding the Code?
In yet another case involving the distribution of tourism department material in a New Delhi Assembly Constituency in November, 2003, the commission had pulled up the Union Tourism Minister Mr. Jagmohan for “misusing” Government publicity materials.
Equally relevant is the commission’s instructions dated November 21, 2007 in which it directed all governments to strictly ensure that all references to politicians and ministers on the official website of the Government should be deleted during the period of General Elections to the Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies. It said individuals associated with a party should not eulogise Government achievements “as personal achievements.” If that is so, how can thousands of crores of public money spent on Government schemes be palmed off as gifts from a single party or worse — from a single family, to the people?
I had therefore argued in my petition to the Election Commission that it would therefore be in the fitness of things if the commission issues a direction to the Union Government and all governments in the states to ensure that the nomenclature of all schemes and programmes is politically neutral and to delete the names of members of the Nehru-Gandhi family from these schemes immediately because of the unfair advantage that this offers to the Congress in the election arena.
(Tomorrow: The full list of tax-funded projects that glorify the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.)