Rein in star campaigners: ECI tells BJP, Congress on poll code complaints | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Rein in star campaigners: ECI tells BJP, Congress on poll code complaints

May 22, 2024 05:57 PM IST

Those notices followed complaints by the Congress (against the BJP) and the BJP (against the Congress).

NEW DELHI: In separate but similarly-worded guidances that take no names and are addressed to presidents of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Election Commission of India (ECI) on Wednesday asked the two parties to rein in their star campaigners. ECI’s letters to JP Nadda of the BJP and Mallikarjun Kharge of the Congress are a follow-up to its April 21 notice to the two party presidents and a response to the reply provided by them.

An Indian security personnel walks past the office of the Election Commission of India, (AFP FILE PHOTO)
An Indian security personnel walks past the office of the Election Commission of India, (AFP FILE PHOTO)

Specifically (and this is the only substantive difference between the two advisories), ECI has asked Kharge to ensure that the Congress’ star campaigners do not make statements “that anyone can either abolish or sell or tear apart the Constitution of India etc” as it “is alleged to be instilling fear in the mind of voters about an uncertain future and an attempt to spread anarchy in the country”. The ECI noted that such practices may “prejudicially affect the prospects of certain candidates and thus may border as a corrupt practice under Section 123(4) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951”. In its communication to Kharge, the ECI reiterated that “the MCC has a specific prohibition against use of armed forces for campaigning purposes”.

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And it has asked Nadda to ensure that the party’s responses “ought not to raise or, aggravate anxiousness amongst citizens/electors on the basis of ascribable identity by use of suggestive expressions. The MCC has the primary purpose to control and regulate the tempo and the quality of the campaign speech and conduct. The MCC, an agreed document by all political parties, further casts an extra responsibility on the party in power”.

The ECI also noted that despite being sent a notice, BJP’s star campaigners continued to “allegedly” violate the MCC. “It is noted that even after this notice dated 25.04.2024, and upto 13.05.2024 i.e., date of your reply, rather than accounting for ECI notice of 25.04.2024, in the minimum, as a red flag for future conduct, BJP star campaigners in different election meetings are alleged to be continuously making inter alia following statements alleged to be violative of MCC,” the commission said in its communication to Nadda.

While the original notices too did not take any names, the one to the BJP president was prompted by a speech by Prime Minister Narendra Modi made on April 21 in which he referred to Muslims as “infiltrators” and said that Congress would redistribute wealth amongst “those who have more children”, a thinly veiled dog whistle to talk about Muslims.

And the one to the Congress president was prompted by a speech by Rahul Gandhi in Kerala in which he said that the BJP was trying to create a nation with “one religion” and “one language”. The BJP had complained about this speech on April 19.

Those notices followed complaints by the Congress (against the BJP) and the BJP (against the Congress).

In its complaint, dated April 21, addressed to ECI, the Congress listed five instances of MCC violations by Modi during the ongoing general elections. All five instances were about Modi accusing Congress and the Opposition’s INDIA bloc, and in particular Rahul Gandhi, of being against Hindu culture, and of appealing to people not to vote for Congress as it is a party of ‘sinners’ who oppose a particular religion (referring to Hinduism).

This is the first year ECI has written to party presidents regarding violations of the Model Code of Conduct by their star campaigners. Its usual practice has been to write to the individuals concerned.

ECI’s April 25 notice to both parties did not mention the relevant sections of the Model Code of Conduct or the Indian Penal Code that were alleged to have been violated by the star campaigners though the attached complaints did. The notice also did not mention Modi or Gandhi by name.

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