For Level Playing Field, Should EC Rewrite Rulebook?
April 2, 2024


  • The concept of a level playing field (LPF) in the context of elections is crucial for maintaining the integrity and fairness of democratic processes.
  • Therefore, it is necessary to analyse various aspects focusing on the Election Commission of India's (EC) emphasis on LPF and the enforcement of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) during the general elections of 2024.

Essence, Significance, and Implications of Level Playing Field (LPF) in Electoral Democracy

  • Essence of LPF in Electoral Democracy
    • LPF serves as the bedrock principle that ensures fairness, equality, and transparency in the electoral process.
    • In electoral democracy, the essence of LPF lies in providing a conducive environment where political parties and candidates can engage in healthy competition based on their ideologies, policies, and capabilities, rather than unfair advantages or manipulative tactics.
  • Significance of LPF in Democratic Elections
    • LPF ensures that electoral contests are not skewed in favour of any particular party or candidate, thus safeguarding the fundamental democratic principles of representation and accountability.
    • Without LPF, there is a risk of electoral outcomes being influenced by factors other than the will of the electorate, such as undue influence, coercion, or manipulation.
  • Implications of LPF for Democratic Values
    • By ensuring that all stakeholders abide by the rules of the electoral game, LPF reinforces public trust in the electoral process and the legitimacy of elected representatives.
    • Moreover, LPF reinforces the principle of inclusivity by providing equal opportunities for participation to all segments of society, regardless of their political affiliations or resources.

The Role of Election Commission in the Application of LPF and the MCC

  • Ensuring Fairness and Integrity
    • The application of LPF and the MCC aims to maintain fairness and integrity throughout the electoral process, from campaigning to polling and results declaration.
    • It seeks to prevent any party or candidate from gaining an unfair advantage over others through unethical or unlawful means, thereby preserving the democratic ideals of equality and transparency.
  • Regulating Political Behaviour
    • The MCC serves as a set of guidelines and regulations that govern the conduct of political parties, candidates, and other stakeholders during elections.
    • It prohibits activities such as spreading hate speech, making false allegations, or inciting communal tensions, which could undermine the electoral process and violate the principles of LPF.
  • Equal Treatment of Contestants
    • LPF and the MCC mandate equal treatment of all contestants, regardless of their political affiliations or positions of power.
    • It ensures that incumbents do not misuse their authority or access to resources for electoral gain, levelling the playing field for challengers and opposition parties.
  • Addressing Power Imbalances
    • LPF acknowledges inherent power imbalances between ruling parties and opposition candidates and seeks to mitigate these disparities.
    • The MCC contains specific provisions that hold the ruling party accountable for any misuse of state resources or official position for electoral purposes, thereby preventing unfair advantages.
  • Promoting Ethical Campaigning
    • LPF and the MCC promote ethical campaigning by discouraging negative tactics such as personal attacks, mudslinging, or the use of divisive rhetoric.
    • Candidates and parties are encouraged to focus on presenting their policies, visions, and plans to voters, fostering informed decision-making and constructive political discourse.
  • Enforcement and Adjudication
    • The Election Commission is responsible for enforcing the provisions of the MCC and adjudicating complaints of violations.
    • It conducts regular monitoring and surveillance activities to ensure compliance with the MCC and takes corrective action against offenders, including imposing penalties or disqualification if necessary. 

Challenges and Dilemmas Faced by the Election Commission in Conducting Free and Fair Elections

  • Ensuring Compliance with the Model Code of Conduct (MCC)
    • One of the primary challenges for the Election Commission is ensuring the effective enforcement of the MCC.
    • Despite clear guidelines and regulations, political parties and candidates may attempt to circumvent or violate the MCC, posing a challenge to the Commission's authority and credibility.
  • Misuse of State Machinery and Resources
    • Another significant challenge is the misuse of state machinery and resources by ruling parties for electoral gain.
    • Incumbents may use their official position to influence voters, allocate resources unfairly, or deploy government machinery in favour of their electoral campaign, undermining the principle of a level playing field.
  • Emerging Technologies and Communication Channels
    • Rapid advancements in technology and communication present new challenges for the Election Commission in regulating electoral campaigning.
    • The proliferation of social media platforms and digital technologies has made it easier for parties and candidates to disseminate misinformation, spread propaganda, and manipulate public opinion, posing challenges to maintaining the integrity of the electoral process.
  • Ensuring Inclusivity and Accessibility
    • The Election Commission faces challenges in ensuring inclusivity and accessibility in the electoral process, particularly for marginalized and underrepresented communities.
    • Barriers such as voter suppression, disenfranchisement, or lack of access to polling stations may undermine the principle of equal participation and representation in elections.
  • Balancing Independence and Autonomy
    • The Election Commission operates in a political environment where it must balance its independence and autonomy with the expectations and pressures from various stakeholders, including political parties, the government, and civil society.
    • Striking the right balance is crucial for maintaining the Commission's credibility and impartiality in conducting elections.
  • Adapting to Legal and Institutional Changes
    • Changes in electoral laws, court rulings, and institutional practices pose challenges for the Election Commission in adapting its procedures and mechanisms accordingly.
    • The Commission must navigate complex legal and institutional frameworks while ensuring consistency, transparency, and accountability in its decision-making processes.
  • Public Trust and Confidence
    • Upholding public trust and confidence in the electoral process is paramount for the Election Commission.
    • Any perception of bias, favouritism, or incompetence could erode public trust in the Commission's ability to conduct free and fair elections, undermining the legitimacy of electoral outcomes. 

Way Forward: Need For an Evolution in the Application of MCC

  • Response to Election Dynamics
    • The evolution of the MCC also reflects changes in electoral dynamics, including shifts in political culture, voter behaviour, and campaign strategies.
    • It needs to adapt to new challenges such as the rise of populism, polarisation, or the influence of money power in elections.
  • International Best Practices
    • The ECI may draw upon international best practices and standards in updating the MCC, reflecting global trends in electoral governance and integrity.
    • This ensures that the MCC remains relevant and effective in upholding democratic principles and standards.
  • Consultation and Stakeholder Engagement
    • The ECI may engage in consultations with political parties, civil society organisations, and other stakeholders to solicit feedback and inputs for updating the MCC.
    • This participatory approach helps to build consensus and ownership of the MCC among key stakeholders.


  • The principle of a level playing field is essential for upholding the integrity of electoral democracy and the Model Code of Conduct, enforced by the Election Commission, plays a pivotal role in ensuring fair electoral practices.
  • However, its application must evolve to address emerging challenges while upholding the core principles of free and fair elections.
  • Thus, the Election Commission's role extends beyond mere enforcement to safeguarding the spirit of democracy itself.