Pravesh Verma, Anurag Thakur off ‘star’ list, but can still canvass
Leaders named “star campaigners” are exempted from any such limit, and the party pays for their campaign expenses. There is no limit on expenses by a party.Updated: Jan 30, 2020, 18:10 IST
The Election Commission of India (ECI) directed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Wednesday to immediately drop Union minister Anurag Thakur and parliamentarian Pravesh Verma from its list of “star campaigners” for the upcoming elections in Delhi until further orders, taking note of their controversial statements that political rivals say are divisive and communally charged.
The order does not prevent the two leaders from campaigning, a senior ECI official said on the condition of anonymity. But the money spent on their campaigns will be added to the concerned candidate’s campaign budget, which has to be declared in the election expenditure accounts and is capped at ₹28 lakh.
Leaders named “star campaigners” are exempted from any such limit, and the party pays for their campaign expenses. There is no limit on expenses by a party.
“EC has asked my name to be removed from the star campaigners’ list. But I’m allowed to campaign,” Verma, the BJP MP from West Delhi, said. “I have not said anything wrong,” he added.
ECI has also issued separate show-cause notices to Verma and Thakur, and asked them to reply by Thursday afternoon. Both of them have been strongly criticised by Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress. “Election Commission has ordered the removal of Anurag Thakur and Pravesh Verma from the list of star campaigners of Bharatiya Janata Party for the general elections to the Legislative Assembly of the NCT of Delhi with immediate effect and until further orders,” read the ECI order.
Union minister and senior BJP leader Prakash Javadekar said: “I have been informed that Election Commission has issued some directions. We will study and If necessary, we will present a letter or application...we are putting a balanced campaign and with facts.”
On Wednesday, the poll watchdog also issued a fresh advisory, reiterating that campaigning rules prohibit leaders or candidates from making communally charged statements during election campaigns.
“No activity, which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different caste, communities, religious and linguistic groups shall be attempted,” read the order.
Verma triggered a controversy on Tuesday, alleging that protesters gathered at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh — where a sit-in against the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act has continued for over a month — will “enter homes..rape..and kill”, and indicated that this can only be prevented if the BJP is elected to power in the state. And on Monday, Thakur, while addressing a campaign rally, chanted a provocative slogan and encouraged the crowd to complete it. Thakur said, “Desh ke gaddaron ko”, as the rally participants cheered on by saying, “goli maaron saalon ko”. A rough translation would be — shoot the nation’s traitors.
Their statements were among a string of controversial comments and, rivals allege, communally divisive rhetoric that the BJP has used over the past week in the Delhi election campaign.
Former chief election commissioner HS Brahma said EC should not tolerate any indiscipline. “The directive [to Thakur and Verma] issued is in right earnest and much required.”
The high-stakes Delhi elections will be held on February 8 and the results will be out on February 11.
AAP senior leader and Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh urged ECI to completely ban Verma and “other leaders” of the BJP from campaigning. “...We demand that an FIR be lodged in the matter [related to Verma],” he said.
Mukesh Sharma, a Delhi Congress spokesperson, asked: “The BJP does not believe in following the Constitution of this country. How will they follow the direction of the Election Commission?”