A manifesto is generally defined as a published declaration of the intentions, motives or views of an individual, group, political party or government whosoever issues it and usually comprises a previously published opinion or public consensus and/or promotes a new idea with prescriptive notions for carrying out changes for future. Oxford dictionary defines manifesto as a public declaration of the policy and aims of a group such as political party. It is therefore a published document containing declaration of the ideology, intentions, views, policies and programs of a particular political party. The Election Manifestos are generally drafted by the Political Parties keeping an eye on forthcoming elections and are generally published and well publicized. It therefore serves as a reference document or benchmark for the public at large for what a political party stands for. By comparing the ideologies, policies and programmes of the political parties, the voters decide which party they should vote for to meet their expectations and aspirations though promises made under Election Manifesto are not legally enforceable. Hence this paper attempts to explore a framework to govern the Election Manifesto of political parties.
Election Manifesto is a case of legislative vacuum where the judiciary can apply its inherent power to frame guidelines. Distribution of freebies at government cost which forms a major chunk in any election manifesto disturbs the level playing field and vitiates the electoral process Hon'ble Supreme Court under it’s Civil Appellate Jurisdiction Civil Appeal No.5130 of 2013 (Arising out of SLP(C) No.21455 of 2008) in S. Subramaniam Balaji (Appellant) Versus The Government of Tamil Nadu & Others (Respondents) has directed the Election Commission of India to frame guidelines for Election Manifestos to incorporate the same under “Model Code of Conduct for the Guidance of Political Parties'. In this case, a Bench of Justices P Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi ruled that the “distribution of freebies of any kind, undoubtedly, influences all people', and “shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree'. The Court suggested that “a separate head for guidelines for election manifesto released by a political party can also be included in the Model Code of Conduct for the Guidance of Political Parties & Candidates'.
The Court scrutinized as to whether any element of Corruption inducing the elector to vote in his favour amounts to bribery under Section 123 of RP Act and violation of Article 14 of Constitution. Although, the law is obvious that the promises in the election manifesto was not construed as ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123 of RP Act, the reality cannot be ruled out that distribution of freebies of any kind. It undoubtedly, influences all people as it shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree. However, the Election Commission, in order to ensure level playing field between the contesting parties and candidates in elections and also in order to see that the purity of the election process does not get vitiated, been issuing instructions under the Model Code of Conduct. In the absence of any specific enactment that directly governs the contents of the election manifesto, the Hon’ble Supreme Court directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines for Election Manifesto under the Model Code of Conduct for the Guidance of Political Parties & Candidates. The Commission on 12th August 2013 held a meeting with representatives of National and State recognized Parties in New Delhi to seek their suggestions/views in the wake of the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court which directed the Commission to frame guidelines on Election manifesto in consultation with the recognized political parties, to be included as part of the Model Code of Conduct and on formulation of guidelines for election manifestos.
Subsequently, the Election Commission of India vide its Letter No.437/6/Manifesto/2015/CC/628-698 dated 24th April 2015 addressed to all recognized State and National Political parties sought for a softcopy of the election manifesto for records. It has issued detailed guidelines to all recognized political parties under the Model Code of Conduct for inclusion of period of release of manifesto vide Letter No. No.437/6/1/ECI/INST/FUNCT/MCC/2019 dated 16th March 2019. However, these guidelines lacked any specific clarity from ECI point of view as they had only specified prohibitory period for Release of Manifesto during election and brushed the observations of the Supreme Court which had specifically instructed the ECI to frame regulations.
PROPOSED FRAMEWORK FOR ELECTION MANIFESTO
- All recognized political parties must submit an Affidavit to the Election Commission of India listing out the specific promises proposed Election Manifesto before publication with an undertaking or indemnity to comply with the promises made before the elections.
- After getting elected the Status of Promises made in the previous elections and current elections should be apprised with a deadline for compliance.
- No Government machinery or public exchequer should be utilized at any cost for publication or promotion of election manifesto. ECI should be empowered to debar or cancel the nomination of the candidate from contesting any elections.
- No party or candidate or any member having any political affiliation should engage in issuing Election Manifesto that would involve making many unrealistic promises during elections that cannot be fulfilled.
- Election Manifesto should also state the status of fulfillment of previous Manifesto and the party cannot issue any fresh promises if their previous entities are pending.
- The language should be readable by Common voters as these un-implementable manifestos should never remain pieces of paper due to short term memory of citizens and ECI should mandate easy accessibility to the electors. During the past one party stated “Primary healthcare infrastructure will be strengthened… and increased" and another party as “focus on rural healthcare delivery" are mentioned in the respective Election manifestos, but there is no direction given on how these outcomes will be attained.
- The election manifesto shall not contain anything contrary to the ideals and principles enshrined in the Constitution and further that it shall be consistent with the letter and spirit of other provisions of Model Code of Conduct.
- The 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.
- In the interest of transparency, level playing field and credibility of promises, political parties must ensure that their manifestos reflect the rationale for the promises and broadly indicate the ways and means to meet the financial requirements for it.
- The Prohibitory period contained in the RP Act for issue of Election Manifesto must be amended to ensure that voters are given sufficient time to compare and comprehend with that of all in the public domain on many occasions a same promise is drafted in many versions.
Time of Election Commission of India to undertake an Empirical Study on Election Manifestos issued by major political parties during the last 70 years and publish a report in its website about the status and performance of fulfillment of promises made by political parties and create generate awareness to the Electors about the Credibility of these promises made by political parties during elections. Election manifestos function as signaling devices for contextualizing the priorities of a political party. A specific Regulated or statutory framework for Election Manifestos would also directly control and disciple the Electoral field it would create sufficient space to increase civic engagement by evolving Election manifestos into sharper documents, both in their outlook and in their outcomes to become significant factor in the political process of our democracy.
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