Implementing Standards without the Force of Law: India's Electoral Conduct Code, 1990-2001

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T.N. Seshan took over as head of the Election Commission of India in 1990, when negative campaigning was on the increase. Candidates appealed to voters on caste and communal lines, sometimes provoking violence. A voluntary Model Code of Conduct, designed to help moderate the excesses of political parties during elections, had lain dormant since its creation 30 years earlier. During the next 11 years, Seshan and his successor, M.S. Gill, worked to elevate the code’s norms and to elicit compliance. Although some campaign excesses persisted, by 2010 the code had become an effective tool for shaping electoral tactics and the behavior of political parties in India. This case offers insights into how to build acceptance of standards that have no force of law.

Rushda Majeed drafted this case on the basis of interviews conducted in New Delhi in November 2010. Case published June 2011.
Associated Interview(s):  S.K. Mendiratta, Shri Baijayant Jay Panda
election commission
code of conduct
Focus Area(s): 
Reducing Divisive Effects of Competition
Critical Tasks: 
Legal framework
Poll worker management
Core Challenge: 
Dispute resolution (compliance)
Country of Reform: 
Case Studies
Rushda Majeed