With the imposition of the election code of conduct, the whip is now in the hands of the Election Commission and not the government.
Suddenly, every department has turned a lot more efficient, even without the whip having been cracked yet. Messages are going across government departments to buck up and get courteous to the common man.
Strangely, there are also hold ups in government departments as public servants proffer the excuse of the model code of conduct to delay official works. The code, however, does not prohibit the normal functioning of a government department in any manner whatsoever. It only restrains the government – more importantly ministers – from sanctioning grants or payments from the discretionary funds, or announcing financial grants or promises of funds, or promises of construction of roads, provision of drinking water facilities, or any ad-hoc appointments in government departments or public sector undertakings, which could influence the voters in favor of the party in power. All other works are possible. It is just that public announcements by ministers that can lure voters towards a party won’t be heard during this period.
The code is meant to ensure that no party, mainly the party in government, takes advantage of government machinery to bolster its prospects at the hustings. It is meant to ensure that the elections are held in a free and fair manner, and that all the candidates have a common playing field. But with this come certain advantages to the common man, who in normal circumstances is deprived of them.
Importantly, crime is brought under the scanner during this period. The Chief Electoral Office has identified areas where money laundering can occur during the election period. According to the CEO, the areas are narcotics trade, matka and casinos and a strict vigil will be maintained over these during the election period. In 2017, during the campaign period for the Assembly elections, there had been a noticeable reduction in petty crime. The moot question is why is this heightened vigilance restricted to the election period? Can’t the elected government maintain the same kind of vigil over these activities the rest of the time?
The same agencies and the same officials of the Police, Excise, Commercial Taxes and Income Tax Departments, that at all other times are in charge of keeping vigil over these activities, will be exercising their duties in the weeks during which the election process is on. Why can’t these officials be equally alert and maintain vigil of a similar nature over the same activities the rest of the year? As the CEO said, there are rules and regulations that have to be complied with, the officers will only be enforcing them. So if it is a question of enforcement, then this is almost indicative of the fact that the enforcement during the rest of the year is lax.
Liquor too is under the scanner, and its transportation across the borders will be monitored to control any illegal movement. Besides, bulk purchases of goods or an increase in the sale of certain items will also be monitored as these can then be distributed to the electorate. Even banks will be asked to monitor online transactions during the period. In fact there will be a close watch being kept on the expenditure on a great many items during the next few weeks.
The code of conduct may rein in the politicians, but it gives the common man an advantage that he otherwise does not normally have. If crime can be controlled during this period, then why not at other times? This is one question that the government must answer. It should not take a code of conduct for the administration to function smoothly.