The Election Commission has held that the electoral promise by the BJP to provide free vaccine in Bihar does not violate any provision of the model code of conduct. In its formal response to a private citizen’s complaint that alleged violation of the poll code by the party through misuse of the union government machinery, the poll panel gave a clean chit to the free vaccine offer on all three criteria laid down in Part VIII of the model code to regulate party manifestos.
Stating that political parties or candidates issue election manifestos in respect of the particular election, the EC — in its response sent on October 28 to the complaint received from RTI activist Saket Gokhale — held that “no violation of any of the provisions of model code of conduct has been observed in the instant matter”.
- The first of the three criteria states that the election manifesto shall not contain anything repugnant to the ideals and principles enshrined in the constitution. It states further that it shall be consistent with the letter and spirit of other provisions of the model code of conduct.
- The second provision states that the Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in the constitution enjoin upon the state to frame various welfare measures for the citizens and, therefore, there can be no objection to the promise of such welfare in an election manifesto. However, it adds, political parties should avoid making those promises which are likely to vitiate the purity of the election process or exert undue influence on the voters in exercising their franchise.
- The third criteria — in Para VIII of the model code of conduct for the guidance of political parties — says that “in the interest of transparency, level playing field and credibility of promises, it’s expected that (the) manifesto also reflect (sic) the rationale for the promises and broadly indicate the ways and means to meet the financial requirement for it….Trust of voters should be sought only on those promises which are possible to be fulfilled”.
Interestingly, the EC had, during the Lok Sabha election in 2019, given a clean chit to the Indian National Congress’s (INC) NYAY scheme announced as part of its manifesto, on the very same criteria.
The announcement of free vaccine to the people of Bihar by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman at the 22 October press conference to release BJP manifesto had invoked the ire of the opposition parties. They alleged that the BJP was politicising the pandemic to make electoral gains.
Former INC president Rahul Gandhi had then tweeted: “GOI (Government of India) just announced India’s Covid access strategy. Kindly refer to the state-wise election schedule to know when will you get it, along with a hoard of false promises.”
RJD MP in Rajya Sabha Manoj Jha expressed shock, too, saying that promising a vaccine for a pandemic in a welfare state as part of an election manifesto “shows the level of deterioration in their (BJP’s) thinking”.