‘Enforcement is very poor’

Print edition : May 30, 2014
Interview with Dushyant Dave.

DUSHYANT DAVE is a senior advocate in the Supreme Court. He has been appointed by the Supreme Court in significant matters of public interest. Dave is also on the governing body of the National Legal Services Authority. In an email interview to Frontline, Dave speaks about the model code of conduct, the legal case against Narendra Modi and controlling paid news during the elections.

Do you feel that there is a significant rise in the number of violations of the model code of conduct during this general election?

Undoubtedly the number of violations has increased markedly. The nature of violations has also become serious and poses a challenge to the secularism and integrity of India.

Will statutory backing for the model code of conduct ensure greater compliance by political parties and individuals?

Mere statutory backing for the model code of conduct is not enough. The enforcement is very poor. Like other constitutional institutions, the Election Commission lacks the courage to take firm and strong action against powerful politicians.

In the absence of statutory backing, how effective will the E.C.’s action be in ensuring free and fair elections?

The model code of conduct was implemented after a consensus was reached with political parties and was approved by the Supreme Court. So, to my mind, it is the law of the land by virtue of Article 141, and must be enforced by all authorities by virtue of Article 144. Besides, the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and the Indian Penal Code have sufficient safeguards to ensure free and fair elections. More provisions won’t change the ground realities.

Is there a strong legal case against Modi for violating the model code of conduct by displaying the party symbol within 100 metres of a polling booth and then addressing a press conference?

Yes, I do believe that there is a sufficiently strong case against Mr Modi for violating the clear and mandatory provisions of the Representation of the People Act. Unfortunately, as in the past and like other politicians, it is possible that Mr Modi will escape action under the law.

How can greater transparency about and compliance with election expenditure limits be ensured?

It is impossible to bring transparency in funding and expenditure in elections. The election process, like most businesses, is run on black money. If business doesn’t make white money, how will they pay in white? If business wants illegal favours in return for funding, how will they fund in white? And there is always the likelihood of parties being vindictive towards business for not funding them. It is a vicious circle.

The only solution is funding by the state to parties and audit of all expenses by the CAG [Comptroller and Auditor General]. We have to wait long even to make a slight change.

How would you respond to the view that the model code of conduct comes in the way of developmental activities at times?

No. The model code is not supposed to bring down the functioning of the government or the economy. They must function normally except in the case of serious issues affecting the integrity of the country and corrupt activities.

How could the Election Commission address the problem of paid news more effectively?

Paid news must be dealt with in the same way as other violations are. It is also corrupt practice.