Former civil servants of the Constitutional Conduct Group wrote a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora talking about the violation of the Model Code of Conduct arising from the release of biopics after the Model Code of Conduct for the general elections has come into force.
New Delhi: Former civil servants of the Constitutional Conduct Group wrote a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora talking about the violation of the Model Code of Conduct arising from the release of biopics after the Model Code of Conduct for the general elections has come into force. They requested the Election Commission of India to take appropriate action under the powers vested in it by Article 324 of the Constitution of India.
The biopic in question is based on PM Narendra Modi and the group confronted the commissioner with the ethical and moral dilemma of releasing such a visibly election propaganda film when the MCC has been issued.
“Our group of former civil servants of the All India and Central Services have interacted with the Election Commission from time to time on issues of public interest. We are now writing to you to draw your attention to a potential threat to the correct applicability of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC,)” they wrote.
“When even appointments to the Boards of Public Sector Undertakings are not permitted under the MCC, open advocacy of the role of the Prime Minister (or of any other candidate) in biopics or documentaries focused on the amount, in our view, to propaganda in favour of individuals belonging to particular political parties at a time when the MCC is in force,” they said.
“There are media reports that a biopic on our Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, is being readied for release. The release was set for 12 April 2019, then, unexpectedly, it was brought forward to 5 April 2019. You will appreciate that such a film would create enormous electoral mileage for the Prime Minister and the party in power. It is, therefore, necessary to examine whether the release of this biopic after the announcement of elections and the coming into force of the MCC is consonant with the principles of a free and fair election. The same principle would apply to any similar biopic on any other candidate in the forthcoming elections since news reports mention a biopic on the president of the Indian National Congress, Shri Rahul Gandhi (though there is no mention of the date of release).” They said.
“It is especially required, under the MCC, 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.” It cannot be said that the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has no role in this, given that the Central Board of Film Certification falls under its jurisdiction,” they said, pointing out the collusion between film certification and the government.
“When expenditures on behalf of a candidate even without his/her formal permission are deemed to be counted as part of the expenses incurred by the candidate, a view also needs to be taken whether the expenditures on the production of such biopics or documentaries and their distribution/publicity should be added to the expenses incurred by the candidate directly,” they wrote.
They added that there was no urgency for the release of such biopics or documentaries at this juncture, except to garner publicity for political personages and the political parties they represent. “We, therefore, request the ECI to issue directions to withhold their release in cinema theatres or as home videos or on the Web (via YouTube, Netflix, Hotstar or similar channels) or via social media (Facebook, Twitter or any other) till the date when the MCC ceases to operate, i.e., on a date after 23 May 2019,” they said.
They wrote that in a catena of judgments both before and after the Association for Democratic Reforms v. Union of India” (2001), the Supreme Court has ruled that Article 324 of the Constitution of India operates in areas “left unoccupied by legislation” and the expressions “superintendence, direction and control” as well as “conduct of all elections” in Article 324 are the “broadest of terms”. Therefore, “the Commission can cope with a situation where the field is unoccupied by issuing necessary orders”. In other words, the ECI’s power under Article 324 is to be construed liberally and given its widest possible meaning, they said.