EC silent on Modi's 'Bajrangbali' statement, issues notice to Congress on an ad criticizing the BJP

The Congress has complained against Modi for having hurt religious sentiments and insulted Lord Hanuman by "equating" him to the Bajrang Dal

PM Modi holding a statue of Lord Hanuman along with other Karnataka BJP leaders (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/ @narendramodi)
PM Modi holding a statue of Lord Hanuman along with other Karnataka BJP leaders (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/ @narendramodi)

Naheed Ataulla

Last week on May 4, the Congress party in Karnataka filed a complaint before the State Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) seeking action against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for "utilising and using names of Hindu Gods during his election rallies only for the purpose of soliciting votes in the name of religion". There has been no response from either the CEO or the Election Commission of India to it.

However, KPCC President D.K Shivakumar was issued a notice within 24 hours of a full-page advertisement that appeared in all leading newspapers in Karnataka, giving details of the alleged commission that has to be paid to the ruling BJP government to get projects cleared. On May 6, the CEO issued a notice to Shivakumar asking for "empirical evidence" for the corruption allegations made in an ad against the BJP-led state government.  An advisory was issued by the ECI to all Editors of newspapers on May 7,  which said that they will be responsible for all matters, including advertisements published in newspapers. If responsibility is disclaimed, this will be explicitly stated beforehand. Several attempts by the National Herald to contact the CEO did not yield results.

The Congress has complained against Modi for having hurt religious sentiments and insulted Lord Hanuman by "equating" him to the Bajrang Dal. The trigger for Modi to invoke Hanuman's name was the Congress manifesto, released on May 2, which mentioned banning radical groups such as the Bajrang Dal and the Popular Front of India, if they promoted enmity. Modi urged the people of Karnataka to say 'Jai Bajrangbali' when they cast their vote to "punish" the Congress for its "culture of abuse.''

"It's a 100 percent violation of the model code of conduct as Modi has invoked religion to seek votes. Lord Hanuman is invoked during a time of crisis. Why didn't the BJP call out to Hanuman during Covid or the Cauvery water crisis or during the floods in Bengaluru?'' Aam Aadmi candidate from Chikpet in Bengaluru and  Supreme Court advocate Brijesh Kalappa asked. KPCC general secretary B.S Shivanna endorsing Kalappa's views said that when these problems occurred, the BJP did not remember Hanuman. But they organised the chanting of Hanuman Chalisa to protest against the Congress, which was an election gimmick, he added.

Amid the raging "Bajrang Dal" row, senior Congress leader P.Chidambaram said that his party's manifesto did not state that the outfit would be banned, but promised "decisive action" under the law as a warning to all organisations that indulge in hate-mongering. Hitting out at the BJP over its criticism, he also questioned the equating of Bajrang Dal with 'Bajrangbali', asking how this "magical transformation" can be explained.  "I'm wondering how Bajrang Dal became Bajrangbali,'' he asked.

Media analyst  N.K Mohan Ram maintained that Modi and other BJP  leaders invoking Hanuman's name demonstrated their panic as some of the poll projections have given the Congress an edge. Regarding the ban on Bajrang Dal impacting the Congress, he said: "Committed voters will not change. After having gotten used to a particular brand of toothpaste, one will not switch to another for whimsical reasons. Bajrang Dal or Bajrangbali is not going to be an issue," he claimed.

KPCC spokesperson Ramesh Babu said that the Supreme court ruling in 2017 had said that politicians cannot use religion or caste to seek votes. An appeal in the name of caste, religion, race or community is impermissible under the Representation of Peoples' Act, 1951, he stated.

The Supreme court in its ruling said: "Religion has no role in the electoral process, which is a secular activity. Using religion or caste to seek votes amounts to corrupt practices under electoral laws.''

Babu also took exception to the EC issuing notice to Shivakumar on the advertisement saying all scripts to be published by political parties in the media are vetted by a monitoring authority. Hence, the ad was passed by the screening committee.

The Congress has also objected to the EC giving permission to Modi to  carry out a road show in Bengaluru for two days, while the same was reportedly denied to party leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Modi, during his election tour in Karnataka from April 29 to May 7, addressed 23 rallies, including the road shows. Campaigning for the May 10 Assembly elections in Karnataka concludes today. The counting of votes is on May 13.

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