Politicians are increasingly exploiting a loophole in election law that enables them to reach out to voters through social and electronic media in constituencies where campaigning has ended by delivering political speeches from non-polling areas.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Akhilesh Yadav cleverly used this loophole to send a message to the voters of Uttar Pradesh, a day ahead of the seventh and final phase of polling in the state.
Modi accused the Akhilesh Yadav government of slow development works in Uttar Pradesh, while inaugurating multiple projects at Bharuch in Gujarat and addressing a function to commemorate the centenary celebrations of Yogoda Satsanga Society of India in Delhi on Tuesday.
Gandhi used a Congress convention in Delhi to launch a blistering attack on the Prime Minister for conducting back-to-back road shows in Varanasi while Akhilesh hit out at Modi in Lucknow during a press conference on the issue of rape accused and absconding ministerial colleague Gayatri Prajapati.
According to the Representation of the People Act 1951, convening, holding or attending, joining or addressing any public meeting or procession are prohibited for 48 hours till the conclusion of polling in an election going area.
Similarly, there is also a bar on displaying or propagating through cinematography, television or other similar apparatus any election matter that could influence or impact the poll outcome. The Act also says any person contravening these provisions could either be punished with imprisonment up to two years or fined, or both.
But the poll panel’s hands appear to be tied.
“If a statement is made outside the area under model code of conduct, it does not result in violation unless there is a reference to poll going area. In February, we issued a strong advisory to all political parties not to mix religion and caste with campaign,” chief election commissioner (CEC) Nasim Ziadi told HT in an interview last week.
“Of late, political parties are giving due consideration to our advisory. We have introduced pre certification of print media ads. If one party gives an ad on the day of the poll making an allegation about another, the other cannot rebut it. The damage is done. That is what pre certification is. We have written to the law ministry to amend the section 126. It is not possible to filter electronic signals. We had toyed with the idea,” he said.
Former CEC SY Qureshi admitted that the political class is using this loophole (in the Act).
“As of now, nothing can be done legally,” he told HT.
During the separate functions in Delhi and Gujarat, Modi made several references to Varanasi and Uttar Pradesh.
“I was in Uttar Pradesh recently, attending election rallies in different places. People there showed me some incomplete structures…..In Kashi (Varanasi), there is a structure pending completion for the past 13 years. I told them it would have been better had this been handed over to the Centre. I would have come and completed it,” the PM said in Bharuch during an official programme.
In Delhi, Modi recalled how Paramhansa Yogananda, who founded the Yogoda Satsanga Society in 1917, is still remembered in Kashi and his teachings, “which are as pure as Maa Ganga”, continue to flow within many in the holy city where he spent his childhood.
The Prime Minister also lamented that some people tend to link spirituality to religion and asserted that the two are very different. “India’s spirituality is its strength. But, it is unfortunate that some people link spirituality to religion. But both spirituality and religion are very different,” he said.
The remarks came in the backdrop of a raging debate over attempts by political parties to polarise society on the lines of religion, especially during elections.
Addressing the party convention in Delhi, Gandhi said, “For the first time, a Prime Minister thrice held road shows in a state election. It was a retake of road shows. But let me tell him that Banaras has made up its mind. People of Banaras and Uttar Pradesh have understood Modi’s politics of lies and will hand him and the BJP a resounding defeat. He can visit as many times as he wants.”
Gandhi also took on Modi over his “Maa Ganga” comment in which he called himself the son of the holy river. “Modiji ne kaha ki Maa Ganga ne apne bete ko Banaras bulaya hai (Modiji said Mother Ganga has called her son to Banaras). Maa Ganga belongs to all Indians. That shows Modiji’s level of arrogance.”
In 2014, the Congress leader said Modi sought votes in the name of ‘Maa Ganga’, and then abandoned her after winning the elections.
For his part, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister addressed the news conference in Lucknow to talk about governor Ram Naik’s letter to him asking why rape accused Gayatri Prajapati was still in his cabinet.
While Akhilesh spoke on the Prajapati issue, he also used the opportunity to hit out at Modi.
“I thank (the) people of Varanasi for giving us historic support during the road show and forced the PM and BJP to hold more road shows….I often say those who fail in examinations go for a repeat,” he told reporters.