Violations pile up a day after EC gag on leaders
The Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and several other political parties went to the Election Commission (EC) on Tuesday with a flurry of fresh complaints against each other’s leaders, a day after the poll watchdog handed out gag orders to four prominent politicians for controversial speeches they made in an increasingly bitter campaign.
The spate of new allegations, like the ones that led to the campaign bans for Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Union minister Maneka Gandhi, BSP chief Mayawati and SP leader Azam Khan, relate to violations of campaign rules that prohibit soliciting votes on the basis of religion, as well as one new instance where a state-level politician used strong expletives.
BSP chief Mayawati on Tuesday appealed in the Supreme Court against the EC’s decision to ban her from campaigning for 48 hours, but her request was turned down. “You go and file a statutory appeal. Do not expect us to hear you in this PIL,” or public interest litigation, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi told Mayawati’s lawyer, senior advocate Dushyant Dave, who said the ban was extremely drastic.
In a separate hearing, the apex court also took a dig at EC, saying “it seems you have got the powers now. EC has woken up now.” The comment was a reference to a hearing on Monday when the judges had pulled the commission up for being unable to act swiftly against controversial speeches – within hours of that hearing, EC issued the orders against the four politicians named above.
“We have found we have several powers,” senior advocate CA Sundaram, appearing for the EC, said on Tuesday and listed out the action taken by the poll panel against some politicians. Monday’s actions triggered a flood of new complaints on Tuesday, with the Congress presenting a list of five purported violations for which it sought punishment.
The party wanted action over alleged surrogate advertising by Prime Minister Narendra Modi using the Indian Railways, expletives used by Himachal Pradesh BJP chief Satpal Singh Satti, the transport of a suspicious black box in the PM’s helicopter, hateful and divisive comments by top BJP leaders and the intimidation of a Congress candidate by Communist Party of India (Marxist) workers during campaigning in Kerala’s Karur, said senior Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi.
“We had given a representation earlier about the hateful and divisive speeches on April 12 by the Prime Minister in Nanded, BJP chief (Amit Shah) in Latur and UP chief minister Ajay Singh Bisht in Meerut. The Election Commission took an important decision on Monday and barred some people from campaigning. We have now given a third representation in a simple form and requested that since the Election Commission has set a precedent, then why no action had been taken against the Prime Minister and the BJP chief. Principles are same for everyone and law is also equal for all,” he added.
In the Nanded speech, PM Modi had on April 12, referring to Congress president Rahul Gandhi without naming him, said that the Congress had to look for a seat “where the majority is in a minority” -- a remark the opposition party says amounts to seeking votes on the basis of religion. BJP chief Amit Shah made a similar remark during a rally in Latur, Maharashtra. It was a reference to Wayanad in Kerala, which Gandhi has picked as his second seat.
Ajay Singh Bisht refers to UP chief minister Adityanath, who used the name before joining the Hindu monastery that he is a part of in Gorakhpur.
The BJP hit back at the Congress, naming its Punjab leader Navjot Singh Sidhu for remarks during a rally in Bihar in a complaint to the EC. Sidhu had in a speech in Araria in Bihar named the Muslim community and urged its members to “vote unitedly” to defeat Prime Minister Modi’s BJP. “It is part of the Congress’ DNA to divide. It is not a new norm in this party,” BJP leader and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Tuesday.
The party also appealed to the commission to reconsider the ban on Adityanath, who has been barred from campaigning anywhere in the country for 72 hours starting Tuesday.
Kerala’s ruling CPI(M) also approached the EC, urging it to take action against Prime Minister Modi.
The party cited a remark by Modi on the Sabarimala temple, which it said was aimed at “communal polarization”. Modi, the complaint alleged, said at an election rally at Theni in Tamil Nadu that the Communists and the Muslim League were playing a dangerous game on Sabarimala “to strike at the root of faith”.
The Sabarimala temple has been in the middle of a controversy relating to the entry of women of childbearing age, which had been forbidden by tradition until September 2018 when the Supreme Court struck down the practice of excluding women as unconstitutional. The CPI(M)-led state government attempted to enforce the ruling while the BJP backed Hindu groups who protested against the ruling.