[Analytics] Indian authorities find no poll code breach by Modi

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi cleared of election violation. Photo: AFP / Sachin Kumar

The Election Commission of India on Tuesday ruled that Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not violate the Modal Code of Conduct and electoral laws in his speech criticizing Congress president Rahul Gandhi at a poll rally in Wardha, Maharashtra. The code is a set of guidelines issued by the commission for conduct of political parties and candidates during elections, reported the Asia Times.

Modi, in his speech on 1 April, lashed out at Gandhi for contesting election from a second seat in Wayanad, Kerala. He said, “Leaders of that party are now scared of contesting from constituencies dominated by the majority [Hindu] population.” Earlier, Gandhi had always contested the elections from his stronghold, Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.

The opposition Congress party had approached the Election Commission on April 5 to seek action against Modi’s remarks.

But according to the Press Trust of India, the spokesperson of the poll panel said,“The matter has been examined in detail in accordance to the extant guidelines/provisions of the Model Code of Conduct, the Representation of the People Act and the report of the Chief Electoral Officer, Maharashtra. Accordingly, the commission is of the considered view that in this matter no such violation has been noticed.”

This came after the commission received a notice from the Supreme Court on a Congress plea seeking action for complaints against Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah. The bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justice S K Kaul and Justice K M Joseph also said that it was up to the commission to pass appropriate orders in the matter and scheduled the next hearing for May 2.

The plea was filed on Monday by Sushmita Dev, Silchar member of parliament in eastern India’s Assam and president of Congress’s women’s wing. She alleged that Modi and Shah had indulged in hate speech and had used the armed forces for “political propaganda.” The petition sought “urgent and necessary” directives to the Election Commission to take the poll code violation complaints in cognizance.

The petition had also stated that inaction by the commission and its reluctance to ensure a level playing field amounted to an abdication of its constitutional responsibilities.

The Election Commission’s decision on Monday to bar BJP’s Gujarat chief Jitubhai Vaghani from campaigning for 72 hours drew flak on social media. People mocked the decision, noting that polls in Gujarat concluded on April 23.

Also, The Indian Express reported that the full Commission, comprising Chief Election Commissioner of India Arora and Election Commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra, has not had a single deliberation since April 5 over the alleged violations by Modi.

A meeting of the full Commission is usually supposed to convene twice a week to discuss important matters including complaints of MCC violations. The three commissioners ideally should have met at least six times since the first complaint against Modi was lodged with the Commission.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala has now criticized the EC’s decision and said the model code of conduct has now become the “Modi Code of Conduct.”

Earlier Modi also made several references to the Pulwama attack in February and India’s retaliation as the Balakot air strike during his election campaign, which was explicitly disallowed by the commission. He has also been accused of holding a roadshow ahead of casting his vote in Gujarat, which is an MCC violation.

Another complaint against Modi was filed after a rally on April 9, where he urged first-time voters to dedicate their votes to defense forces. Nine days later, the commission said it was still reviewing the speech, reported the Scroll.

A complaint was also made against Shah for calling the Indian Air Force “Modi ki vayu Sena” (Modi’s air force). The Uttar Pradesh chief minister Ajay Singh Bisht, more popularly known as Yogi Adityanath, had also called the armed forces as “Modi ji ki Sena” (Modi’s army) but the commission had asked him to “be more careful” in future and issued the chief minister a show cause notice.

Inaction by the Election Commission has led to many questioning its autonomy and “willingness.” Dev’s petition noted that the complaint and cause of action would become redundant once the elections are over. Such “deliberate and willful violations,” when unaddressed, “send a message of endorsement, not just to the offenders, but to all party functionaries down the line,”it said.

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