EC’s clampdown on symbols in Karnataka polls draws politicians’ ire

With the poll panel deciding to have photos of candidates on electronic voting machines for the first time in the state, some leaders are unhappy with some of the rules surrounding the photos. 

Karnataka Elections 2018 Updated: Apr 23, 2018 07:42 IST
Vikram Gopal
Vikram Gopal
Hindustan Times, Bengaluru/Mandya
Karnataka Elections,Bengaluru,Siddaramaiah
The Election Commission’s strict enforcement of rules on poll symbols has upset political parties in Karnataka.(AFP file photo/ Representative)

Politicians in Karnataka are angry at Election Commission officials for clamping down on things they feel are well within the rules — canteens, Gandhi caps, even wall paintings,

In Mandya, popular subsidised canteens have had to take down their signboards because they carry the pictures of politicians.

Chief minister Siddaramaiah set off a canteen war when he announced the government’s decision to open subsidised canteens across the state called Indira Canteens, modelled on Tamil Nadu’s Amma Canteens.

Janata Dal (Secular) leader TA Saravana had even beaten the government in the race by opening a Namma Appaji Canteen in the state capital in honour of former prime minister and party supremo HD Deve Gowda on July 28, last year days ahead of the official launch of the Indira Canteens on August 15.

These canteens spread outside the capital as well, with JD(S) leaders opening two Appaji Canteens in Mandya, months before two Indira Canteens were opened there. This inspired a street food vendor to open his own canteen named after his favourite film star, Congress leader Divya Spandana; he called it Ramya Canteen after her stage name.

Raghu, who runs the Ramya Canteen, strategically located near the district hospital, said since chief election commissioner OP Rawat’s announcement of the polling date for the state polls on March 27, his canteen has had to close down in the evening. The reason: it has been found to be in violation of the poll code because the signboard has a picture of Ramya.

“Till even a month ago, the dinner service was the best time for business,” Raghu said. “I cannot run a canteen with a board.”

He is also upset because he isn’t part of any political party, merely a fan of the former actor.“She hasn’t even visited this canteen once. But I gained some popularity by naming my eatery after her.”

Meanwhile, Saravana of the JD(S) said that while the Indira Canteens in Bengaluru have not had their signages covered, the Appaji Canteens have been told to do this. “I told them this was unjust but they said that because Indira Gandhi is not a living politician her portraits need not be taken down,” he said.

A senior official in the state Election Commission office, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the rules stated clearly that photos of deceased leaders could be allowed but not of living ones. “If they are offering food for free, however, this is a violation of the poll code,” the official said. All the canteens charge people for their meals.

There are other reasons why candidates are angry with the EC. With the poll panel deciding to have photos of candidates on electronic voting machines for the first time in the state, some leaders are unhappy with some of the rules surrounding the photos.

In Aland constituency in Kalaburagi district, Congress candidate BR Patil is annoyed that he cannot submit a photo where he is wearing a Gandhi cap, which he says he has always used.

“My supporters associate me with the Gandhi cap, and they might not recognise me without it,” Patil said. “I understand that the authorities want to ensure that the face of the candidate should be prominent and clearly identifiable, but what if voters associate us with certain apparel?”

Patil said the Gandhi cap was not communal attire and had been part of politicians’ uniform since before independence. He urged the EC to be pragmatic.

A second state EC official who asked not to be identified said that the idea is just that -- clear and easy identification. “We are just implementing these rules keeping the interests of voters in mind.”

The Bharatiya Janata party submitted a memorandum to EC officials earlier this month, protesting the decision to cover up wall paintings of the party’s lotus symbol (painted on the walls of party workers).

First Published: Apr 21, 2018 22:08 IST