On a day when well over 100 million voters decided the fates of several political heavyweights, only someone with the star power of Narendra Modi could steal the show by doing something as mundane as filing his nomination papers.
This the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate did to great effect here, attracting television cameras like a magnet and leaving rivals fuming at the ease with which the BJP had captured headlines yet again even as the election chuntered on in some other parts of Uttar Pradesh and in the far corners of the country.
Modi files nomination in Varanasi, invokes 'Maa Ganga'
A sea of locals wearing saffron caps went berserk the moment their poster boy arrived at the filing venue in an open motorised NaMo chariot. Prior to his triumphal entrance he had garlanded the statues of Sardar Patel and Madan Mohan Malaviya, and even found time to blog on how he wanted to clean the polluted Ganga.
Modi, a consummate campaigner, was not about to let the occasion go waste. “I have neither come on my own, nor been brought. I have been summoned here by Ma Ganga and feeling just as excited as a child feels in his mother’s lap,” he declared.
This is the second time the BJP has successfully managed to hog the attention on a poll day. It released its long-delayed manifesto on the first day of polling, April 7, grabbing headlines that would normally have been devoted to turn outs and the odd centenarian voter casting his ballot.
“According to the Hindu calendar, today is not a particularly auspicious day for nominations. But Modi did it precisely to capture media space on a poll day,” said N Bhaskara Rao, chairman of the Centre for Media Studies. Drawing a parallel with Arvind Kejriwal’s ploys for media attention, Rao said the entire game was one of one-upmanship.
Election Commission officials said they were examining a Congress complaint seeking action against Modi for filing his nomination on polling day. “The issue is under examination,” said Vinod Zutsi, deputy election commissioner. The Samajwadi Party (SP) asked the EC to cancel Modi’s nomination for violation of Model Code of Conduct.
N Gopalaswamy, former chief election commissioner, said there was nothing wrong with a candidate filing his nomination on polling day.
“If media thinks it could influence the voters then it should have showed restraint and not covered his nomination,” he said. “The Election Commission cannot debar candidates from filing nomination on a poll day. How can it? The commission decides both the nomination days and polling days.”
Some other officials said the Representation of the People’s Act debars political parties and candidates from campaigning by publication or telecast only in areas where polling is taking place. “Legally, holding an election rally or an event outside of polling areas is not debarred,” an official said. On Thursday, Congress president Sonia Gandhi held an election rally in Valsad in Gujarat.
“I don’t think it has any impact on voters in areas going to polls the same day,” said CP Bhambri, who taught political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University. “But, the hype created has a multiplier impact in areas where the polling is yet to take place.”
(with inputs from Prashant Jha and Chetan Chauhan in Delhi)