Election Commission of India (ECI), Elections, India, Stories

Explainer: The What, Why, and How of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) for Elections


The Model Code of Conduct serves as a regulatory structure aimed at maintaining fairness and ethical standards and freedom in campaigning. These guidelines are aimed at enhancing the integrity of the electoral process by strengthening values such as transparency, fairness, and accountability.  However, the data & details of complaints on such violations are not readily available in the public domain with criticism of subjective interpretation of the guidelines by the ECI.

In the ongoing 2024 General Elections, the Election Commission of India (ECI) barred K. Chandrasekhar Rao, President, Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) and former Chief Minister of Telangana, from holding any election-related public activity for 48 hours between 01 May and 03 May. This unprecedented action invited wrath from various political segments questioning the inaction of the ECI on other similar alleged violations by other Parties and the Prime Minister of India himself.

In today’s story, we look at the brief history of the Model Code of Conduct, its evolution over time, some statistics on violations, and criticisms of its application.

What and why of Model Code of Conduct (MCC)?

The Model Code of Conduct serves as a regulatory structure aimed at maintaining fairness and ethical standards and freedom in campaigning. These guidelines are aimed at enhancing the integrity of the electoral process by strengthening values such as transparency, fairness, and accountability.  Despite lacking legal enforcement, the MCC has gradually established itself as a morally binding set of ethical guidelines and serves as a benchmark for political parties’ behaviour. It comes into force from the time of the announcement of elections.

Evolution of MCC

The Model Code of Conduct was initially introduced during the 1960 Kerala State Assembly elections. By the 1962 Lok Sabha general elections, it was officially disseminated to all political parties with an appeal for their agreement. Over time, as electoral circumstances shifted, adjustments were made to the Model Code of Conduct.

The MCC consists of Eight parts, each dealing with different aspects of election campaigning. Section I covers general conduct, while Sections II and III address meetings and procession. Sections IV and V deal with polling day and Polling booth respectively. Section VI deals with observers and Section VII is particularly vital as it focuses on the conduct of the party in power, which wields significant influence. Likewise, Section VIII, the most recent addition, pertains to guidelines on election manifestos.

The ambit of MCC evolved concerning the changing electoral scenarios. In 2004, the ECI, upon the directions of the Apex court, issued directions for setting up of committee that examines and certifies advertisements of a political nature on TV Channels and cable networks. 

The Election Commission of India also instructed all the electoral officials in 2009 to maintain a party-wise register to track the instances of violations being committed by various candidates and campaigners of various political parties, and this violation index should be put out in the public domain. However, there is no such publicly available database of MCC violations.

Further, during the 2019 elections, the Election Commission of India, under the powers of Article 324 of the Indian Constitution, barred the display/exhibit of any biopic/publicity material during the MCC period.

How are MCC violations collated?

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has dedicated MCC Teams tasked with ensuring compliance with ECI directives regarding the Model Code of Conduct by officials, candidates, political parties, media outlets, etc., across all levels. If any violations were reported post-election announcement, these teams conduct thorough inquiries and forward the findings for appropriate action. Daily reports on MCC violations are compiled and managed by the MCC Team. 

MCC complaints are usually received from the General Public, Political Parties, Media, and Others including Independent Candidates, BLOs, Government officers, etc. Additionally, Flying Squads (FS), Static Surveillance Teams (SST), Video Viewing Teams (VVT), Video Surveillance Teams (VST), and Check Posts are deployed to monitor excessive campaign expenditures, distribution of bribes in cash or kind, illegal movement of arms, ammunition, liquor, or antisocial elements within the geographical segments during the electoral process. Despite all these, there is no central database for publication of all such cases of MCC violations in the public domain.

The ECI launched the cVIGIL app during the Parliament elections 2019, which enables citizens to report MCC Violations and act as a unified database of publications of all such cases of MCC violations.

Statistics on MCC Violations

The 2014 elections saw more than 8 Lakh violation cases being reported, more than 4.2 lakh notices issued and more than sixteen thousand FIRs being registered. However, there is no clarity on the authenticity of this data as the narrative report of the 2014 elections shows different numbers at different places.

In 2019 general elections, a total of 510 cases were reported in the MCC Violation Portal out of which 121 relaxation requests were received from the Central Ministries.  During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, a total number of 1,42,250 cases had been filed through the cVIGIL app out of 99% of cases (i.e.,1,41,618) were disposed of and 77% of the total filed cases were found correct (i.e., 1,10,029). Maximum cVIGIL cases had been filed from Kerala i.e., 64,114 followed by Madhya Pradesh at 16,472 and West Bengal at 13,116 cases.

Further, considering the growing penetration of social media and electoral campaigning through social media, the ECI, and all major social media platforms, operating under the supervision of the Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), collaborated and collectively endorsed a ‘Voluntary Code of Ethics’ for the General Elections of 2019, which was subsequently s implemented immediately upon its presentation to the Commission on 20 March 2019. A total of 909 cases of violation were acted upon by social media platforms during the 2019 elections.

A screen shot of a computer  Description automatically generated

Post the first month of the enforcement of MCC in the ongoing 2024 elections, the ECI reported that approximately 200 cases of violations were reported, out of which 169 cases were acted upon. BJP filed 51 complaints, while INC filed 59 and other parties constituted 90 cases of the total violations. Actions were taken up in 38 cases filed by BJP, 51 cases filed by INC and 80 cases filed by other parties. Further, since the announcement of General Elections 2024, 2,68,080 complaints have been received in the cVIGIL app, and over 2,67,762 cases (99.8%) have been resolved.

Some criticisms of MCC

The journey of the MCC has evolved from a mere moral guideline to actively influencing electoral affairs, despite lacking legal backing. However, its effectiveness isn’t hindered by this absence of statutory support. Violations can be addressed under existing laws like the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 , and Representation of People’s Act,1951. The Election Commission can take various actions against such violations, broadly categorized into two categories.

A diagram of a government  Description automatically generated

ECI had undertaken extreme action only once by cancelling the bye-election for the Kalka Assembly seat in Haryana, and Ranipet in Tamil Nadu in 1993. It had not used its power under Section 16A of The Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) order, 1968 to suspend or withdraw recognition of a recognised political party for failure to observe MCC. In 2019, the election to the Vellore Parliamentary Constituency was rescinded based on reports of systematic design to influence voters, unearthed during Income Tax raids.     

How uniform are actions taken by ECI for MCC Violations?

To understand the uniformity of actions by the Election Commission of India, we shall look at some previous instances where action was taken.

It can be seen that the action by ECI depends on a lot of factors- status of the candidate- whether star campaigner or not, previous history of violations, location, and intensity of the violation, and so on. Such a non-objective way of dealing with violations could definitely invite criticisms of the impartiality of the Election Commission. These allegations are further aggravated by the inactions on violations by politicians of certain parties, particularly in Lok Sabha 2024.

Need for more strengthened, uniform, and broader MCC.

As seen above, there is no standardized criteria for determining penalties for Model Code of Conduct violations. These actions are primarily based on immediate assessments, relying on reports from poll observers. Decision-making regarding MCC violations involves a high level of subjectivity. Terms like “urgency,” “seriousness,” “highly provocative,” and “insinuating” are open to interpretation. It’s not necessarily the type of violation but its intensity that determines the action taken. However, who defines this intensity and on what grounds remains highly subjective. The Election Commission lacks a set criterion for deciding penalties for violations.

A definitive step in this direction involves standardizing processes where arbitrariness is possible. Initiatives aimed at making violations of the MCC more uniform and objective should be undertaken from the beginning. With the increasing reliance on social media and digital technologies, it’s crucial for the Election Commission to remain ahead. Measures should be implemented to establish guidelines or mechanisms that can limit or regulate the undue influence on the free & fair process of elections. 


Comments are closed.