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ECI in action

ECI in action

As the elections draw nearer, campaigning by political parties is expected to shift gears. And, with the predominant objective of conducting free and fair elections, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has pulled up the strings in few matters. Stressing on the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), the EC has asked political parties not to release their manifesto in the 48-hour period prior to polls, also known as election silence. A crucial development as it may turn out to be, the election silence is observed by the provisions of ECI's MCC to provide a voter complete window of introspection over their choice. Section 126 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, which prohibits any form of poll campaign in the last 48 hours leading up to voting, was revisited by a 14-member committee to provide this crucial addition to the MCC which, in a way, was instrumental for BJP back in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The saffron party had released its manifesto on the first day of polling in the last general elections. Despite Congress' laments, ECI was unable to act due to no mention of any deadline for the same in the regulations. Last minute manifesto clearly aims at catching the voter off-guard and confusing them over their choice owing to a populist manifesto. Adamant voters are definitely a class apart, having their choices fixed and religiously voting to see their choice get promoted to power. But, there are many who are meandering and may be influenced by populist manifesto constituting sops which may not even be feasible yet serving the purpose of being utterly lucrative. For the ones without any specific choices, election silence has been the window to approach them since campaigning is barred in the said period anyway. With this little amendment, ECI has prevented last-minute strategies from materialising. The poll panel even asked the parties to abstain from addressing media over election-related issues. ECI has been actively trying to ensure that no stone is left unturned in ensuring free and fair elections. In a bid to empower citizens in this mandate, ECI unveiled the cVIGIL app where citizens can record any violation of MCC on their mobiles and send it to the election authorities for appropriate action. Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said that ECI authorities are duty bound to take action within 100 minutes. The District Control Room will allocate cVIGIL cases to flying squads through GIS-based platform ensuring expedited process. Further, ECI has called up all country heads of major social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Google, ShareChat and Tiktok – on March 19 to check the systems put up by them to flag and take down fake news, poll-related misinformation and any content which violates the law (Representation of People's Act) and MCC. Recently, Wing Commander Abhinandan's picture was circulated by BJP leader and Delhi MLA OP Sharma on Facebook which is exactly what is not expected, and hence, would not be allowed. The discussion will ensure that social media platforms coherently work to curb any violations regarding the election regulations and also check for any inappropriate content which may potentially spread a wrong message. Pre-certification of advertisements will also be discussed with ECI's Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC) to ensure that only the pre-certified ones by ECI are allowed to be posted. Sunil Arora stated that social media platforms have created a mechanism to accept only pre-certified political advertisements during the election process and will share the expenditure incurred in this regard with election authorities. Besides priority channels established by these platforms for ECI, grievance officers have also been instated by them for the upcoming elections. As it is already understood, social media's capacity to reach masses and consequently, influence them, remains as much a bane as a boon. The growing population of digital India has seen a rising percentage on social media and that accounts for strict vigilance to ensure that social media does not, in any manner, aid any party, unethically. Propaganda can be crafted and floated to disturb the sanctity of elections, aggravating into agitation or biased influence which is undesirable from election's lenses. A tight grip on social media, VVPATs, cVIGIL, amended norms – all account for an extra-vigilant and responsible ECI whose objective remains to conduct transparent elections down to the last mile.

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