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EC puts campaign bans on BJP’s Thakur, Verma

By HT Correspondent, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JAN 30, 2020 11:19 PM IST

The Election Commission of India (ECI), on Thursday, imposed a 72-hour ban on Minister of State for Finance, Anurag Thakur, and a 96-hour ban on BJP parliamentarian Parvesh Sahib Singh Verma from campaigning for the forthcoming assembly polls in Delhi after it held that the two made “undesirable and objectionable statements” at election rallies, which had the potential to “aggravate existing differences and create mutual hatred between different religious communities”.

ECI sources said the two will continue to be off the star campaigner list of BJP, as per the directive issued on Wednesday, even after the ban gets lifted, meaning thereby the expenditure incurred on their rallies will be added to the candidate’s account that, as per rules, is capped at 28 lakhs and the party cannot pay for their campaign expenses. There is no limit on expenses by a party.

In a related development, the ECI—on a complaint submitted by Aam Admi Party (AAP)—issued fresh notice to Verma for allegedly calling Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal a terrorist. He has time till Friday evening, 5pm, to respond.

Thakur had chanted a provocative slogan: “Desh ke Gaddaron ko” at a rally in Rithala on Monday, cheering the crowd present there to say: “goli maaron saalon ko”. The rough English translation is “shoot the traitors”.

Verma had on Tuesday triggered controversy by alleging the protestors gathered at the Shaheen Bagh – where a sit-in protest has continued for over a month against the new citizenship law – would enter houses of Delhi residents and rape and kill, indicating this will be prevented if the BJP is elected to power.

The ECI felt the leaders violated the model code of conduct and the Representatives of People’s Act – the election law—by making controversial statements, which political rivals allege, are divisive and communally rhetoric.

“I request the ECI to reconsider its decision. The ECI should act against those who are protesting at Shaheen Bagh and chanting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’. The ECI should ban Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia, who have said that they support the protesters at Shaheen Bagh. I urge the ECI to ban Kejriwal, Sisodia and all those at Shaheen Bagh who are shouting slogans against the country,” West Delhi MP Verma said in a video tweeted by him.

Thakur offered no reaction to the ECI order.

Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said BJP’s divisive narrative during the campaign is worrisome. “The Election Commission has acted in accordance with whatever they thought was the best course of action, but if you have Members of Parliament and you have Ministers in the Union Government adopting the stridency that we have seen, this is not co-incidental. The fact is that they have shed all vestige of even any civility in terms of the attempt to completely and absolutely communalize the Delhi elections.”

The poll watchdog took its decision after perusing the response the two filed on Thursday afternoon while replying to ECI’s show-cause notice, issued to them separately, seeking an explanation from them over the “provocative remarks” made during campaigning. Both of them have been strongly criticised by AAP and the Congress. ECI rejected the response offered by them and also declined their request to give them a personal hearing.

In his explanation, Thakur said the slogan attributed to him was never uttered by the Union minister and that there was no intention on his part to “create or promote enmity between religious groups, caste or community”. It was the crowd that responded with the remark “goli maron saalon ko” to his slogan “Desh ke Gaddaro ko”, “which literally means the traitor of the country,” he said.

ECI concluded Thakur did make “undesirable and objectionable statements, which has the tone and tenor to aggravate differences or create mutual hatred between different religious groups”.

“The Commission under Article 324 of the Constituition of India and under all the other powers enabling it in this behalf bars Thakur from holding any public meetings, public processions, public rallies, road shows and interviews, public utterances in the media in connection with the ongoing general elections to the legislative assembly of NTC, Delhi, 2020 for a period of 72 hours, starting 5pm January 30,” read the ECI order. There was no response from Thakur’s office to the ECI order.

On his part, Verma clarified his statements regarding the protestors at Shaheen Bagh were in reply to a question during an interview and that he intended to “highlight certain incidents that disturbed peace”. He claimed the media had misrepresented his statements. His remark over removal of “masjids” at a public meeting in Vikaspur was in the context of removing illegal encroachment from public land, he said. He also denied violating the model code of conduct.

On his representation, ECI held Verma’s statements had the “potential to aggravate differences between religious communities”. The 96-hour ban will start 5pm January 30, the order said.

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