EC’s credibility has hit a new low

The Election Commission has shown itself to be absolutely partisan in the Gujarat poll process, turning a blind eye to blatant transgressions on part of the BJP

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media

Raman Swamy

The credibility of the Election Commission is under a cloud. BJP leaders, including the Prime Minister himself, have flouted the model code of conduct multiple times and the wise men at Nirvachan Sadan do not bat an eyelid.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi gives an interview to a Gujarati TV channel and there is immediate action. Gandhi is served a notice, an FIR is slapped on the TV channel and the telecast of the interview is banned.

The Congress party has taken to the streets in front of the ECI headquarters in New Delhi and justifiably so.

As a constitutional body, the Election Commission is expected to uphold the highest standards of impartiality and integrity. This has clearly not been the case as far as the Gujarat poll process is concerned.

If India is still a democracy, the Congress leaders have a right to demand stern action against the BJP leaders with the same severity and swiftness as in Rahul Gandhi’s case. Incredibly, this has not happened. It is almost as if the Election Commissioners have become paralysed by fear or a misplaced sense of loyalty – despite prime facie evidence of repeated breaches of the electoral guidelines.

The BJP undeniably flouted the code by releasing its Gujarat election manifesto on December 8, on the eve of the first phase of polling on December 9. It should have been an open and shut case for the Election Commission to rap the BJP on the knuckles for a major violation of the model code of conduct.

By definition, a party manifesto is an appeal for votes – the “sankalp patra” spelt out the reasons why the Gujarat electorate should elect BJP candidates. Also, it was a formal release function presided over by none other than Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

The infringement was brought to the notice of the local observers as well as to the ECI at the national level. The Commissioners chose to look the other way.

An equally flagrant violation was committed by Narendra Modi personally on the same day, December 8. He was ostensibly campaigning in Ahmedabad for Phase two poll constituencies, but he made a direct appeal on live television to the voters in the first phase areas to press the button on the lotus symbol in another appalling breach of the model code of conduct.

The code leaves no loophole in its wording. No direct appeal shall be made to voters or by any method that could influence voters in any manner, swaying them towards a particular party or leader, 48 hours before the beginning of the voting process. Again, it has been met by silence and inaction on part of the Election Commission.

Modi in fact defied and disobeyed the norms in multiple other ways too. In his rally speeches in Bhabhar in Banaskantha, he loudly asked the Congress to specify if it wanted a Mandir or a Masjid. This was indisputably a flouting of the code which forbids any direct appeal or use of religious symbols or words which can polarise voters along communal lines.

The Prime Minister went even further, by raking up the Ayodhya issue time and again, and insinuating that Rahul Gandhi had no business visiting temples because he was not part of the Hindu religion. This diatribe was very plainly an attempt to polarise the electorate on communal lines by casting doubts on the Congress leader’s religious affiliations.

What the Prime Minister did subsequently, after the expiry of the deadline for campaigning on Tuesday evening, was even more blatantly in transgression of the norms. At the very least, he disregarded the model code of conduct on at least three highly publicised occasions – and the Congress protest does appear to be not without merit prima facie.

On December 13, the intervening period between end of campaigning and the start of voting on December 14, he delivered a overtly political speech at the FICCI forum. It was a loaded political attack on Congress leaders, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the now-suspended Mani Shankar Aiyar and it was very much in the context of the still ongoing Gujarat poll process.

No action or even a whimper came from Nirvachan Sadan.

Instead, the BJP took up the cue and launched a virulent attack on the ex-PM and other Congress leaders. Party president Amit Shah and Union minister Piyush Goyal addressed the press to hurl allegations against the Congress.

On the day of polling, Modi commissioned a new naval submarine in Mumbai, again in a widely televised event but the Election commission held that it does not come under the ambit of the model code jurisdiction.

That may be justifiable assessment but can the same be said about the mega event of Narendra Modi casting his vote, which was turned into a huge impromptu road-show?

There is little wonder that Congress has cried foul. Party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala has summarised the issue in this way:

New norms for justice by ECI:  1.  FM-BJP leaders hold a press conference in Ahmedabad and release Manifesto on 8th Dec.  No FIR.  2.Modiji does 4 public meetings in 9th Dec - No FIR.   3.Amit Shahji does a PC at Ahmedabad on polling day - No FIR.   4. Piyush Gotalji does 2 press meets - No FIR.   5. Rahul Gandhiji’s interview -  FIR and Notice. Jai Ho!

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