On polling day for Haryana and Maharashtra elections, full page political advertisements featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi with main candidates or faces of the BJP for the two states featured in local newspapers. Seems illegal and unethical but is only unethical. It is legal to do this because the BJP government has not responded to multiple recommendations and an appeal by the Election Commission to amend Section 126 of the Representation of Peoples Act which allows such advertising.
According to The Wire, BJP government has ignored appeals by Election Commission of India (EC) to amend Section 126 of the Representation of Peoples Act that allows this kind of advertising in the duration of what is known as the ‘period of tranquil’. However, in the case of the electronic media, another law bars such advertising in the 48 hours ‘silence period’ before the end of voting.
N Gopalaswami, who served as CEC from June 2006 to April 2009 said that the Commission has been writing to the BJP Government on this, “It is the government which will have to act in the matter,” he said. “The Commission cannot act on its own.”
“The subject finds a reference on the EC website too underneath electoral reforms ideas,” he said. However, while the EC cannot move the Supreme Court in this matter, an NGO could certainly do so.
The EC last year constituted a committee under the chairmanship of senior deputy election commissioner Umesh Sinha to review and suggest modifications and changes in the provisions of Section 126 and other sections of the Representation of the People Act 1951, reported The Wire. These recommendations were then sent to the Centre for implementation; suggesting complete removal of advertisements 48 hours before the election.
The same month, it was reported that the EC wrote to the Law Ministrty; and had sought an amendment to the law to prevent social media and other digital platforms from carrying political advertisements in the final 48 hours before elections, according to The Wire.
The report also specified that “while Section 126 of the Representation of People Act stops electronic media from broadcasting political advertisements during the ‘silent period’, the EC made pre-certification mandatory for campaign material to be published in newspapers during the 48 hours.”
Responding to a query from The Wire about the law ministry’s response in connection with Section 126 of the Representation of People Act, the EC spokesperson said that “No response has been received as yet from the law ministry.”
Through a note by the Election Commissioner, parties were directed to certify their advertisements before them being published. In this note, the commission had said that “NO Political Party or Candidate or any other Organisation or Person shall publish any Advertisement in the print media on poll day and one day prior to poll day, unless the contents of the Advertisement proposed to be published by the Political Parties, Candidates etc. are Pre-certified. Instances of advertisements of offending and misleading nature published in print media have been brought to the notice of the commission in the past. Such advertisements in the last stage of the election vitiate the entire election process. The affected candidates and parties will not have any opportunity of providing clarification/rebuttal in such cases.”