BJP and the electronic media run the risk of falling foul of the provisions of law if the party releases its manifesto on April 7 and TV channels telecast it on the day polling in the nine-phased Lok Sabha elections begins in Tripura and Assam.
However, the party is unfazed saying it is the prerogative of a political party to come out with its manifesto as and when it desires. The scheduled release of the manifesto may attract provisions of the law that bars display of any "election matter" on television during 48 hours ending with the conclusion of poll in six Lok Sabha constituencies on April 7 in Assam and Tripura.
Deputy Election Commissioner Alok Shukla told a press conference in Patna that there was no provision in law or the Commission's instructions that manifesto can be released or not released on certain dates.
However, he referred to provisions in Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act and said "telecast of the manifesto during the 48-hour period is thus likely to be a violation of 126 (1)(b)". The section prohibits public meetings during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for conclusion of the poll.
Under this provision, no person shall address any public meeting or hold a procession in connection with an election or display to the public any election matter "by means of cinematography, television or other similar apparatus". Election Commission sources said the Commission was not in the picture now because the issue can be taken up by any aggrieved person only after the commission of an "offence" under Section 126 of the RP Act.
EC sources said the legal provisions imply a cause of action only after the commission of offence and hence the poll body would not be making any advice or issue a communication to BJP in this regard. Nor has it been asked, they said. It is for the political party to decide and risk the consequences that flow out of it like any aggrieved voter or a party activist or a party to move courts seeking remedy.
The violation of Section 126 of the RP Act entails a punishment of maximum two years' imprisonment and a fine. Under this section "election matter" includes any matter intended or calculated to influence or affect the result of an election. Asked about the controversy, BJP leaders said it is their prerogative to decide on the declaration of poll manifesto. On the prohibition on television channels, a BJP leader said, "It is between the Election Commission and the electronic media."
They also said that in a general election that is spread over nine phases, there will always be a campaign going on in some place or the other which will be telecast in an area that may be witnessing polling.
In such an event, they said strict application of the provision will mean all election activity will have to come to a halt all over the country. However, K J Rao, a former Secretary in the Election Commission, feels that much ado is being made about the provision. He said the election will be taking place only in six constituencies and the manifesto of a national party covers the whole of the country -- 543 constituencies.