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ECI Directive: BJP, Congress told to Desist from Campaigning on Caste, Communal, Religious Lines

ECI Directive: BJP, Congress told to Desist from Campaigning on Caste, Communal, Religious Lines

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, May 22: With five phases of polling already over and the campaigning for the sixth and the penultimate phase due to end on Thursday evening, the Election Commission of India (ECI) on Wednesday decided to act on month-old complaints asking the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress to desist from campaigning along caste, community, language, and religious lines, asserting that India’ socio-cultural milieu cannot be made a casualty to elections.

It also asked the BJP to stop campaign speeches that may divide society and asked the Congress not to politicise defence forces and make potentially divisive statements regarding socio-economic composition of the armed forces. It also asked the Congress to ensure that its star campaigners and candidates do not make statements which give false impression that the Constitution may be abolished or sold.

In separate directions issued to BJP president JP Nadda and Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge, the poll body said the country’s socio-cultural milieu cannot become a casualty to elections. “Elections are a process when political parties not only contest to win, but also avails the opportunity to present themselves in their ideal best for the voting community to experience, emulate and build hopes on. The second part constitutes the more precious heritage of Indian elections and our electoral democracy and this should not be allowed to be weakened by anyone, including your party,” the commission said.
“Elections are periodic exercises, they come and go, but political parties like yours endure; even more enduring preserve is India’s socio-cultural milieu; Political parties are in the task of nurturing leaders for the country for present and future. They cannot afford to be lax in any manner in enforcing discipline and conduct among the cadre in the high stake electoral space; especially with reference to senior members,” the poll body told both parties.

It issued firm directives to Mr Nadda and Mr Kharge instructing them to ensure that the star campaigners of the party adhere strictly to the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) during their election campaigns. The party in power at the election time has extra responsibility. No unlimited extra space should go to the opposition either, the Commission said ahead of the last two phases of election.

“Political parties will have to take primary responsibility for the conduct of their candidates, star campaigners in particular. Campaign speeches by those holding high positions are of more serious consequences,” the Commission said. The BJP — as the ruling party at the Centre — has been asked to stop campaign speeches that may divide society.

The Commission said it expects the BJP to “fully align campaign methods to the practical aspects of the composite and sensitive fabric of India.” The star campaigners of the party have to adhere to the Model Code direction that “No Party or candidate shall include in any activity which may aggravate existing difference or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic,” the Commission said.

The Commission noted that technical loopholes or extreme interpretations of other political parties’ utterances cannot discharge campaigners from the core responsibility of ensuring their own content is corrective and not further degrading the quality of campaign discourse.

The poll panel said the defence offered by both parties on the alleged utterances by the star campaigners was “not tenable.” Shockingly the directive to Mr Nadda to convey to the star campaigners not to make speeches along religious or communal lines has come more than a month after it issued notice to the BJP president on the opposition charge that Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a divisive speech in Rajasthan’s Banswara.

The ECI directed Kharge to ensure that campaigners do not make misleading statements suggesting that the Constitution of India could be abolished or sold. It also called for full compliance with its five-year-old advisory which requires party campaigners and candidates to desist from indulging in any political propaganda involving activities of the Defence forces and not to make potentially divisive statements regarding socio-economic composition of defence forces.

The ECI asked the presidents of the two national parties to issue formal notes to their star campaigners to correct their discourse, exercise care and maintain decorum.

This comes after both the parties had filed complaints against each other, flagging speeches by Mr Modi and Congress MP Rahul Gandhi. The poll body had issued notices and sought their responses on the allegations. In Wednesday’s directions, it has rejected their defences.

The Congress had approached the poll body over Prime Minister Modi’s allegations that the Opposition party wanted to redistribute people’s wealth among Muslims and that the opposition party won’t even spare married women’s ‘mangalsutra.’ The BJP, on the other hand, had flagged to the Election Commission a speech by Rahul Gandhi in which he alleged that the Prime Minister was pushing for one nation, one language, one religion.

The poll body had subsequently issued notices to Mr Nadda and Mr Kharge. Significantly, the notices did not name Prime Minister Modi or Mr Gandhi and party bosses were held responsible for speeches by star campaigners. Wednesday’s directions, too, did not mention any leader’s name.

Meanwhile, Mr Modi on Wednesday called Congress and Samajwadi Party “sympathisers of Pakistan” and alleged that these parties were “scaring the country” with its nuclear power status. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, attacked PM Modi over the Agniveer scheme, saying ‘Hindustan ke jawan’ have been converted into labourers.



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