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ECI Notices to BJP, Congress for Violation of MCC, But Modi Continues with Muslim Jab

ECI Notices to BJP, Congress for Violation of MCC, But Modi Continues with Muslim Jab

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Apr 25: Even as the Election Commission of India on Thursday issued notices to both the BJP and the Congress for alleged violation of model code of conduct by their respective leaders during their election rallies, an unabashed Prime Minister Narendra Modi continued to present a twisted version of the Congress manifesto to instil a sense of fear among the voters that they would lose even their right to work if they voted the Congress to power at the Centre.

Addressing election rallies at Aonla in Bareilly district and Agra in Uttar Pradesh and Morena in Madhya Pradesh, Mr Modi claimed that the Congress party would snatch away jobs from families of marginalised communities and give to those who have “first claim” on resources, an apparent reference to Muslims. “If two people in a backward or Dalit family work, they will take away the job of one and give it to those whom they say have the first right on the country’s resources,” Mr Modi said.

Significantly, the poll panel in its notices addressed to the BJP president JP Nadda and his Congress counterpart Mallikarjun Kharge, have named the persons against whom the complaints had been lodged of code violation, Mr Modi and the former Congress president Rahul Gandhi respectively. It has only sought response from the presidents of the two parties by 11 am Monday, April 29. Each notices contained copies of the rival’s complaint.

It is also significant that, for the first time, party bosses have been held accountable for violations in a campaign speech. This is under Section 77 of the Representation of People Act, which allows parties to name ‘star campaigners’ and they, therefore, have been called on to regulate their speeches.

In a two-page statement issued this morning, the ECI declared “‘star campaigners’ (Prime Minister Modi and Rahul Gandhi have been listed as such) are expected to contribute to a higher quality of discourse… which sometimes gets distorted in the heat of the contests at the local level.” The ECI said it was of the “considered view parties will have to take primary and increasing responsibility for the conduct of their candidates in general, and star campaigners in particular.”

“Campaign speeches by those holding high positions are of more serious consequence.” The EC also said “while individual star campaigners will continue to remain responsible for speeches made, the commission will address party presidents/head of party on a case-to-case basis.”

Sources also pointed to transgressions by Congress leader Supriya Shrinate and the BJP leader Dilip Ghosh earlier this election season. In both those cases, the Election Commission – which ruled the two made “low-level personal attacks” – issued notices of censure directly to the leaders in question.

Sources said in the above two cases too, the BJP and the Congress chiefs also received notices. In this instance, the poll panel told both the Congress and the BJP that “… whereas yours is a national party and is therefore expected to be the standard-bearer in political and campaign discourse, and as such also set high standards of compliance of the Model Code of Conduct.”

The Congress had complained about the Prime Minister’s speech in Rajasthan’s Banswara over the weekend, in which he referred to Muslims and said the opposition party plans to “redistribute wealth to infiltrators.” The party had also complained about Mr Modi referring to its manifesto as a “Muslim League imprint” and alleging that it plans to divide the country should it win the election.

“It completely bears the imprint of the Muslim League, and whatever is remaining is completely dominated by the Leftists,” the PM had said, when talking about the Congress manifesto. But even on Thursday after the ECI issued notices to the two parties, Mr Modi while delivering election speeches doubled down on his “Muslim League imprint” jab.

Two days earlier the BJP had filed a counter-complaint, claiming Mr Gandhi had made “derisive and obnoxious utterances” against the Prime Minister. The reference was to a speech by the Congress leader in Kottayam in Kerala, in which he said “… how can you tell the people of Tamil Nadu not to speak Tamil (and) the people of Kerala not to speak Malayalam… BJP does this with language, place, caste, and religion… whenever they get an opportunity, they divide the country…”

The BJP slammed Mr Gandhi as a “habitual offender” and also accused Congress boss Mr Kharge of “grossly misleading voters by declaring the BJP is going to change the Constitution if they win…”

Back in March, while announcing the dates of the seven-phase election, the EC had warned the politicians not to cross the “red line” during campaigning. The poll panel told political parties it was putting them “on notice” and said informing their star campaigners of the guidelines was their responsibility.

The ECI has invoked Section 77 of the Representation of the People Act and held the party presidents responsible, as a first step, to rein in star campaigners.

“Star Campaigners are expected to contribute to a higher quality of discourse by way of providing an all-India perspective, which sometimes gets distorted in the heat of the contests at the local level. Thus, the expectation from Star Campaigners is to provide corrective action or a sort of healing touch, when intensity of local campaign disrupts or inadvertently crosses over such boundaries,” wrote Senior Principal Secretary Narendra N. Butolia in the letter to Mr Nadda.

“The Star Campaigners are thus expected to utilise this privilege for “propagating the programme of the political parties” and, therefore, their speeches in the campaign space necessarily needs to be judged at a higher threshold of compliance,” it read.



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