As of late, it has been observed that many charismatic leaders across major political parties of India, who happen to be incumbent Ministers of Union and Chief Ministers, have started campaigning even for civic body polls for their favoured candidates. However, should these individuals holding constitutional offices really campaign for their parties?
Constitution of India has instituted Election Commission of India as per Article 324 for conduction of free & fair elections in the country including those of Legislative assembly and Legislative council. There also exist the State Election Commissions for conducting the free & fair elections to the local bodies of the state.
As per practice, the Election Commission of India issues a formal notification declaring the schedule for conducting a particular election along with the enforcement of the Code of Conduct to ensure free & fair election. This code of conduct prescribed guidelines, Do’s and Don’ts, and also imposes certain restrictions on those involved in the election process so as to ascertain the process of the electioneering does not get influenced by the Government machinery.
It has been seen since the very first election in independent India that those holding constitutional offices, like the Prime Minister, Union Ministers, Chief Ministers, and Ministers are incessantly engaged in election canvassing.
This is worthwhile to note that the Ministers take the oath of office that explicitly prohibits them from having any favour and ill-will against anyone. The text of the oath of office for a Minister of the Union has been reproduced as under;
"I, (name), do swear in the name of God/solemnly affirm that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, that I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India, that I will faithfully and conscientiously discharge my duties as a Minister for the Union and that I will do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will."
This oath of office is a solemn vow!
The careful reading of the oath of office shows that the person swearing-in for a particular office can not have any kind of favour or ill-will against anyone.
But, the election canvassing encompasses the appeal to voters for casting their vote in favour of the candidates in the fray. Thence, even those holding constitutional offices also canvass for seeking votes for the contestants belonging to the political party of their allegiance. Sometimes, the appeals are so fervent that the names of leaders from other contesting political parties are openly taken and criticized with a lot of ill-will. The process of canvassing witnesses all kinds of arguments against the candidates/political parties in the fray and, thus, disfavour and ill-will are demonstrated.
It is worthy to note that all those holding constitutional posts and who take the oath of office are under obligation to treat all citizens alike across the country as the office held by them do not belong to any political party. For example, all the Ministers, Chief Ministers, and Prime Minister are equally responsible for all citizens irrespective of the state. So, the canvassing for certain candidates belonging to their political party prima-facie pitches up incoherent with the oath of office taken by them.
Philosophically, this seems a case of the favour and ill-will against opposite candidates and political leaders by the persons holding constitutional offices, thus the non-observance of the oath appears to be done.
Similarly, the canvassing by incumbent Chief Minister and Ministers in their respective state’s local body elections, etc. in favour of a candidate is also purportedly the contravention of the oath of office administered to them. Chief Minister and Ministers in the state have to be non-partisan for its all citizens and any bias on their part may tacitly vitiate the process of Governance in the respective state.
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However, a careful distinction needs to be made here. A declaration of elections which makes an incumbent CM/Minister/PM a ‘caretaker’ should be handled differently. In such elections where these ‘caretaker’ ministers themselves require to be elected again, they should be allowed to campaign for themselves and their party.
As of late, it has been observed that many charismatic leaders across major political parties of India, who happen to be incumbent Ministers of Union and Chief Ministers, have started campaigning even for civic body polls for their favoured candidates. This, certainly, shouldn’t be an essential ingredient in the Indian electioneering practices. There are two reasons for that: firstly, the oath of office seems violated; and secondly, the elections don’t quite remain a level playing field any more for the local leaders!
Some brainstorming is required for devising modalities to predispose any discernible biases on the part of those holding constitutional offices through the oath of office. Necessarily, the electioneering process has to be devoid of the plausibility of perceivable favour for some and disfavour for the other.
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About the author
Prateek Yadav, an alumnus of IIT Kanpur, has worked on solar evaporation desalination and fog harvesting technologies during his M.Tech in Mechanical Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, India.