Turning a blind eye
The Election Commission (EC) has come in for extensive criticism. It’s been accused of either not responding promptly to breaches of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) or of not doing so adequately. Some believe it has noticeably slipped from the acme established by former chief election commissioner TN Seshan in the 1990s. What I find particularly disturbing is the EC’s weakness in responding to the prime minister’s own alleged breaches of the MCC and, even, the law.
However, let me at the outset acknowledge the Commission did take a strong stand on the biopic and on NaMo TV. I only wish it had done this in other areas which are more directly connected to Narendra Modi himself.
Let’s first come to the prime minister’s speeches. In Latur, on April 9, he called on people to dedicate their vote to the soldiers behind the Balakot airstrike and to the martyrs of Pulwama. In doing so, he directly defied the EC’s letter of March 9, warning political parties against politicising the armed forces. At Wardha, on April 1, he asked the audience not to forgive the Congress for insulting Hindus by coining the term Hindu terror. This breached both Section 1 of the MCC and Section 123 of The Representation of People’s Act. These speeches are 20 and 11 days old. Although the EC has called for details, it’s taken no action.
The question is why not? In the middle of an election campaign, such a lengthy lapse of time is hardly excusable. When it concerns an alleged breach by the prime minister, a prompt and clear decision is required. If it appears the PM is being allowed to get away, that can only damage the EC’s credibility.
A second issue is that NaMo TV broadcast the PM’s speeches during the 48-hour period immediately prior to the first and second days of voting. Section 126 of The Representation of People’s Act explicitly prohibits the broadcast of “any matter intended or calculated to influence or affect the result of an election”. Modi’s campaign speeches clearly fall into that category. Equally importantly, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accepts “NaMo TV is a feature of the NaMo app”. And the app, it appears, is owned by Narendra Modi. That points the finger at the PM. But again, as far as I can tell, the EC hasn’t acted. Why?
Third, Scroll.in has revealed that NITI Aayog asked bureaucrats in constituencies the PM was scheduled to campaign in to send local inputs to the PM office. Such inputs were received from Wardha, Gondia and Latur shortly before Modi campaigned there. Doesn’t this sound like a breach of the MCC, which says: “Ministers … shall not … make use of official machinery or personnel during the electioneering work”? But again, as far as I can tell, the EC hasn’t acted. And, again, I ask why?
Whilst it’s true that during an election campaign the PM is just another candidate, it’s also undeniable that as PM he has a position and importance quite distinct from any other person. This means his lapses are of greater significance. They cannot be ignored or responded to in a dilatory fashion. Of course, he must not be treated unfairly but the response has to be fast, if not faster, than other cases.
Isn’t it odd the EC has acted against Yogi Adityanath and Mayawati, whose lapses occurred on the April 7 and April 9 respectively, but is silent about Modi’s, though the incidents happened earlier?