Decided to not touch top Congress, BJP leaders for MCC violations: CEC Rajiv Kumar

Kumar said the ECI had decided to not admonish Narendra Modi and Amit Shah (BJP) and Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (Congress)

Rajiv Kumar (centre) at the press meet (photo: Vipin/NH)
Rajiv Kumar (centre) at the press meet (photo: Vipin/NH)

Yajnaseni Chakraborty

On the sidelines of the Election Commission of India's (ECI) press conference in Delhi on Monday — the first since Lok Sabha elections were announced in March, rather than the traditional press briefing at the end of every polling day — chief election commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar told that the ECI had deliberately decided "not to touch the two top leaders" each from the Congress and the BJP for model code of conduct (MCC) violations.

The MCC, which comes into force as soon as an election is announced, covers a wide range of subjects and actions that every electoral candidate — no matter how "top" he or she is — is prohibited from indulging in during an election campaign.

According to the report, Kumar said the ECI had deliberated over MCC violations at length, and decided to not admonish Narendra Modi and Amit Shah of the BJP and Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra of the Congress, presumably the topmost leaders in its view.

Kumar was responding to the Scroll correspondent’s query about why the ECI had failed to rein in PM Modi’s election speeches targeting Muslims for the majority of his poll campaign.

Scroll quoted the CEC as saying: “We deliberately decided — this is such a huge nation — that the top two people in both the parties we did not touch. Both party presidents we touched equally. Why did we leave two this side and two that side? The persons in position in this huge country also have responsibility. We reminded them of their responsibility."

No matter how he worded it, Kumar's response flies in the face of the concept of the law being equal for all, at least on principal. While the average citizen may rant and rail and point to numerous perceived examples of preferential treatment, for a senior Union government official — one in charge of one of the world's largest electoral exercises — to clearly say so is an idea so outrageous that one hardly knows where to begin countering it.

This unprecedented remark is tantamount to an admission by an administrative functionary that the rule of law is indeed inapplicable to those perceived to be 'superior' in the eyes of a Constitutional body.

If so, this raises serious questions on the extent to which the ECI has been operating on the basis of these arbitrary assessments of power and influence. Is it formally possible for an autonomous Constitutional body to assign a tangible value to the significance of a particular political leader, whether in government or in Opposition?

At another level, this is the ECI saying it knew that these "top leaders" had violated the MCC, but chose to not take action, because these leaders have "responsibilities" and because India is a such a huge nation. Make of that what you can.

As for the two party presidents who were "touched equally", what did the ECI directives to them achieve? In the case of Modi, precisely nothing. Because he continued with his theme of calling the Congress manifesto a reflection of the Muslim League, of the party's plan to seize wealth from Indians and redistribute them among Muslims, of the plan to even select India's cricket team with an eye on favouring minorities, of the plan to take away reservations in job and education from SC/ST/OBCs and give them to Muslims.

When asked Kumar how effective it was to send directions to the party presidents, Kumar reportedly said: “So? What is the party president? Because of that party president’s direction, at least 80 per cent of the second rung has not said anything.”

He then specified who he meant by 'second rung' — Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Union information and broadcasting minister Anurag Thakur, and Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin.

Of these, Sarma has repeatedly delivered anti-Muslim hate speak, even claiming that 1.25 crore residents of Assam are Bangladeshi infiltrators, while Adityanath has called these elections one between "Ram bhakts (devotees) and Ram drohis (traitors)”. Neither of them received notices.

Presumably in an attempt to restore balance, the CEC said the ECI “did not touch equally glaring things on the other side also”, as per Scroll. “After all, you have to give a space to the topmost person to also feel responsible,” said Kumar. “If Mr [Jairam] Ramesh (Congress general-secretary, communications) has said something, he is in a high position, he must feel responsible. When will you understand your responsibility?”

In its notice to Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, the ECI had asked him to ensure that the party’s star campaigners did not spread fear about the Constitution being abolished (which several BJP leaders have publicly claimed to want to do), or indulge in “any political propaganda involving activities of the defence forces”, in a direct reference to the party's criticism of the Union government's Agnipath scheme, which recruits youth into the defence services on a temporary basis and which has come in for criticism from all opposition parties.

For the ECI to equate communally divisive and untruthful hate speak with criticisms of government policy probably shows how deep the rot has set in.

Already, it is under a cloud for the inordinate delay in releasing voter turnout data for the first five phases of the elections, the lack of explanation for huge discrepancies between provisional and final turnout data, and its refusal to release this data in absolute numbers.

With this latest example of its 'impartiality', the ECI has probably reached its nadir.

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