45 days to go

Finally, we have dates. December 9 for the first phase, and December 14, for the second phase, of the Gujarat elections.

The lead-in to the announcement had its share of controversies, the confusion being compounded by the Election Commission’s self-serving statements at various points in time. For instance, the CEC said the reason the dates for Gujarat were not announced at the same time as those for Himachal Pradesh was that flood relief work was still ongoing in the former. Not true, NDTV found when it spoke to officials on the ground.

Such obviously specious reasoning led to the Opposition charge that the commission, particularly its chief, was acting at the behest of the BJP and giving the ruling party and its electioneering spearhead PM Narendra Modi a long runway to announce various schemes and sops. CEC Achal Kumar Joti said there was no pressure from the Central government, but his credibility took a beating when it was outed that he had held onto a government bungalow in Gujarat for far longer than he was entitled to.

As corruption goes, this particular instance seems barely worth noting — but this is where ‘Caesar’s wife‘ comes into play. It is, for obvious reasons, vital that those institutions that are outside the control of the government of the day, institutions that at various times have to play the role of impartial referee, should avoid even the appearance of rent-seeking — and this is where AK Joti fails to live up to the expected standards. But this is not the question that comes to my mind.

In course of a press conference earlier this evening, Arun Jaitley made a lawyerly case for the delayed announcement, in course of which he suggested that it would be unfair to expect Gujarat to live under the shadow of the Model Code of Conduct for a good two months, which would have been the outcome had the dates been announced at the same time as those for Himachal Pradesh.

Have you read the Code? Here it is.

Basically, the various provisions in sum mandate civility and decency in public discourse, ban incendiary speeches and communal and casteist gaslighting, prohibit various forms of corrupt practices designed to influence the voter, and mandate a certain degree of respect for political opponents. In other words, all the Code says is, behave with the propriety expected of leaders of society and polity.

It baffles me — and this is not confined to the BJP; every single party has in turn chafed under the Code — that political parties whine loudly about being held to these very basic standards of proper behavior.

Really? Is good behavior such an impossible standard that you have to limit its application to the barest minimum of time? When you argue this case — and to emphasize again, this applies to all parties at all times — what does it say about you, and about how you conduct yourself on the political battlefield?

How many days, in your estimation, is it fair to ask you to behave?

I’ll leave you with another RK Laxman gem, worth recalling every single time an election comes around: