Wrapping of elephant statutes in Uttar Pradesh may sound “ridiculous” but most former Election Commissions has backed the move saying the election commission is bound to provide “level playing field” for all political parties.Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi who has irked BSP for ordering wrapping of the statues now had, in fact, made the commission’s intention clear in October 2010. The commission after hearing the BSP, which claimed that elephant statue was an Indian traditional symbol and cannot be related to a party, had instructed the state government to ensure that the "level playing field" is not disturbed during elections.
The commission also said that construction of the statutes was violation of the model code of conduct may not be in letter but in spirit. Only in spirit because the model code of conduct is not applicable during non-election days, when the statues were build. But could not stop construction of the statues, as UP government failed to provide expenditure and location details about the parks.
“We have just tried to provide a level playing field to all political parties. Similar orders have been issued in the past,” Quraishi told HT.
In 2004, the commission instructed the central government to cover photographs of then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on signboards on national highways. Three years later, the commission asked Madhya Pradesh government to replace all school textbooks have lotus, election symbol of BJP, imprinted on it. In 2009 general elections, the commission stopped new enrolment under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
Former Chief Election Commissions N Gopalaswamy said if the EC would have allowed public display of elephant and BSP supremo Mayawati’s statutes then other political parties would have got moral right to demand permission to erect cut-outs of its leaders and party symbol at nook and corner of the state.
As of now, the expenditure limit of Rs 16 lakh per assembly constituency creates a restriction on rampant publicity. “It is duty of the election commission to ensure fair level playing field for all political parties especially against the party in power,” he said.
Gopalswamy like some other election commissioners agreed that wrapping of the status may not make huge political difference like other measures such as not allowing a minister to hold a party meeting in a government circuit house but it sends a message of an unbiased election system.
Another former Election Commissioner T S Krishnamurthy agreed that the commission’s directive may sound “idiotic or ridiculous” but it cannot allow the ruling party to misuse public funds for seeking publicity during elections. “The statutes can create some bias in favour of the ruling party,” he said.
To put an end to the debate, Krishnamurthy suggested that the commission should get powers to withdraw election symbol of the party, which use public money to build a monument displaying the symbol. He also wanted a law to bring clarity on what sort of public monuments of living or deal leaders should be allowed.
There are just instructions that images and photographs of the Prime Minister, Chief Ministers, Ministers and other political functionaries who are active in public life should not be displayed in government buildings and premises. The Commission had clarified in 2009 that these instructions do not apply to the images of national leaders, poets and prominent historical figures of the past.