The model code of conduct of the Election Commission of India has been mostly reduced to a joke by pliant officers, cunning chartered accounts, and contemptuous politicians cocking a snook at the fundamental decency of democracy.
It is most evident in the manner among political parties and politicians which own media as India heads into general elections.
Take the case of Andhra Pradesh which goes to the polls today, and where chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) is up against Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy of the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP).
The former has the backing of Eenadu, the Telugu newspaper whose owner Ramoji Rao played a pivotal role in the transformation of Naidu’s father-in-law N.T. Rama Rao from film actor to chief minister in 10 months flat.
Not surprisingly, Eenadu (below) has a jacket ad for Naidu in today’s editions, with a half-page Narendra Modi ad in its inside pages. And two pages of photographs of clean roads, green parks, gleaming buildings artfully conveying the strides under Naidu.
But the revelation is Sakshi, the Telugu newspaper owned by Naidu’s rival, Jagan Mohan Reddy, and modelled on the lines of Eenadu.
It has 14 pages devoted to its owner and his political party, YSRCP.
For starters there are four consecutive broadsheet pages of advertisements with the catchy line ‘Ravaali Jagan, Kaavali Jagan’ (Jagan should come, Jagan should rule), featuring Jagan and his late father, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, who was a thorn in the flesh for Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries who rescued Eenadu.
But what follows next is a series of political advertisements designed as news which makes a mockery of the model code—but proves the old adage that the freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.
The headlines of the two pages (below) scream: ‘Jaganku oka avakaasham eddaam‘ (let’s give Jagan a chance).
These six pages are interespersed with a two-page spread of the promises of the YSR Congress party should it come to power.
And then follows a six-page diatribe against Chandrababu Naidu, with pointed barbs at voters names being deleted from the rolls, at law and order under Naidu, his financial assets, etc. Words like rowdilu (rowdies), visham (poison) effortlessly dot the copy.