Editorial

Space for campaign: On PM Modi’s address on ASAT test

EC went by rule book on ASAT issue, but PM should have upheld the spirit of Model Code

In ruling that Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not violate the Model Code of Conduct by announcing through a nationally televised address the demonstration of India’s capability to bring down an operational satellite, the Election Commission has taken a possibly correct view of the Code’s provisions. However, it remains a narrow technical view as it is a thin line that divides the idea of making a high-level declaration of a defence capability from using it for electoral advantage. Opposition parties had accused the Prime Minister of violating the Model Code by touting the demonstration of the anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test as a significant achievement of the ruling BJP. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury had formally complained to the EC. There were questions about the timing of the test as well as the manner of announcement as the country is in election mode. A five-member committee formed by the EC concluded that the relevant provision was not attracted in this case. Part VII of the Code covering the “party in power” says that “…the misuse of official mass media during the election period for partisan coverage of political news and publicity regarding achievements with a view to furthering the prospects of the party in power shall be scrupulously avoided.” The committee’s finding that there was no “misuse of official mass media” as Doordarshan and AIR took the feed from a news agency, and more than 60 channels did the same, is rooted in the letter of the code, not its spirit.

It is possible to come to an equally valid conclusion that Mr. Modi’s action in making the announcement himself, rather than letting the DRDO, the agency involved, do so violates the bar on “furthering the prospects” of the ruling party by the nature of the publicity given to the achievement. The practice of using a private agency to record the announcement and asking it to share the feed , obliquely serves the purpose of generating publicity through the official media. As the legal maxim goes, what cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly either. Given that Mr. Modi gave advance publicity to the announcement, there is really no virtue in claiming that DD and AIR were not used for the purpose. As a landmark achievement in defence research, it deserved a public pronouncement at a high level. Even then, letting the DRDO explain the achievement first would have served the purpose. That the motive was to proclaim the ASAT demonstration as an achievement of the regime in the field of national security became obvious when it was propagated by the ruling party that its predecessor did not have the political will to approve such a test. The BJP must demonstrate it will not use such achievements for partisan advantage.

 

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 8:50:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/space-for-campaign/article26705113.ece

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