Check, verify, report: How BJP is acting against ‘code breach’
Within minutes of Congress president Rahul Gandhi calling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah a “murder accused” at a rally in Madhya Pradesh on April 23, the legal cell of the BJP got busy.Updated: May 06, 2019, 07:49 IST
Within minutes of Congress president Rahul Gandhi calling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah a “murder accused” at a rally in Madhya Pradesh on April 23, the legal cell of the BJP got busy.
It checked and rechecked the video of the speech, verified its authenticity and finally drafted a complaint that was submitted to the Election Commission (EC).
This is a routine drill followed by the BJP’s legal cell, which is tasked with monitoring every speech and every action of Opposition in election season for possible poll code violations.
The process is gruelling and time-consuming, and requires not just a hawk’s eye, but also familiarity with legal procedures. Since the model code of conduct (MCC) came into effect on March 10 with the announcement of the election schedule, the BJP’s legal cell has submitted over 50 complaints and 30 suggestions to the poll watchdog for action.
MCC bars candidates from seeking votes in the name of religion, making hate speeches and organising public meetings during the 48-hour silence period ahead of the polling day, among other activities.
The saffron party’s legal cell is headed by general secretary Bhupender Yadav. Its main office is in Delhi, but every district of each state has a small office that receive inputs from the vast network of BJP workers and supporters, and the media cells that are active in the booth level.
At the legal cell unit at the sprawling BJP headquarters in the Capital, a group of lawyers pores over every complaint it receives.
Based on merit, some of these are then sent to the poll watchdog, which is tasked with ensuring free and fair elections.
The BJP’s election committee, which is a part of the legal cell, include senior leader Om Pathak, senior advocates Neeraj (he uses only one name), Aishwarya Bhati and Rajan Khosla, a former MLC and general secretary from Uttar Pradesh.
“Some complaints are forwarded to the chief electoral officer...but if the complaint is serious in nature, then delegations of BJP leaders meet poll panel officials,” said Neeraj.
Though Neeraj did not mention the exact number or nature of complaints, he said most complaints the party sent to the poll watchdog so far were related to violations in West Bengal and Odisha.
“There has been violence in West Bengal, and other parties such as the Congress has also reported these to the commission. It was on our complaint that EC issued notices to Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan and Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati, and barred them from canvassing for 72 hours and 48 hours respectively,” Neeraj explained.
Last month, Mayawati was barred for purportedly appealing to Muslims to vote for the SP-BSP alliance in the upcoming Lok Sabha election in Meerut, while Khan was barred for making provocative remarks against BJP candidate Jayaprada.
On how the party maintains a vigil over MCC violations, Yadav said, “Poll code rules should be adhered to for the conduct of fair elections, which in turn are good for democracy. The Constitution has a defined role for EC and we respect the institution.”
Filing complaints about violations is not the only role of the legal and election cells of the BJP. They also train workers and candidates in the legalese of election process — from filing nominations to procedures followed during counting.
“Before the elections begin, the election committee travels to each state to conduct workshops for party workers, and to familiarise them with the process of elections, the rules of MCC, how nomination papers are filed, how to file complaints with the state elections officials in case of violations,” said Neeraj.
The team has also prepared handbooks for each state, often written in the local, official language for the workers to get familiar with the laws.