Lok Sabha elections 2019: Election Commission gives another clean chit to PM Modi, clears Rahul speech

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has cleared Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi of wrongdoing in one complaint each of violation of the model code of conduct they faced for speeches made on the Lok Sabha campaign trail.

ECI said on Thursday that it found no violation in the speech Modi delivered at Barmer in Rajasthan on April 21 in which he said India hadn’t kept a nuclear arsenal for use on Diwali, the festival of lights and fireworks. It’s the third complaint on which the commission has absolved the prime minister.

In the speech, Modi said: “Every other day, they [Pakistan] say ‘we have nuclear button, we have nuclear button’. What do we have then? Have we kept our nuclear weapons for Diwali?”

ECI said it reached the decision after pursuing a detailed report by the chief electoral officer (CEO) of Rajasthan. “The matter has been examined in detail in accordance with the extant advisories, provisions of the Model Code of Conduct and after examination of complete transcript of speech of 10 pages as per the certified copy sent by the Returning Officer, 17 Barmer Parliamentary Constituency,” the order read. Gandhi received a clean chit for a speech in Siroha in Madhya Pradesh’s Jabalpur, where he called Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah a “murder accused”.

In the campaign speech, Gandhi made comments about Shah and his son, Jay Shah. “Murder accused BJP chief Amit Shah. Waah, kya shaan hai! (What greatness!) Have you heard of Jay Shah? He’s a magician; he turned ~50,000 to ~80 crore in three months,” Gandhi said.

ECI said the Madhya Pradesh chief election officer (CEO) did not find any violation of the model code in the speech. “The matter has been examined in detail in accordance with the extant advisories, provisions of the Model Code of Conduct and after examination of complete transcript of speech… Commission is of the considered view that in this matter no such violation of MCC is made out,” the EC’s order read.

A BJP functionary has also filed a defamation case in Gujarat against Gandhi in connection with the remarks. The contention of the party’s Khadia councillor Krishnavadan Brahmbhatt,who filed the case, is that a Central Bureau of Investigation court had absolved Shah of murder charges on January 2, 2015, in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case.

On Thursday, ECI also issued a show cause notice to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath for “the Babar ka aulad” remark he made in Sambhal on April 19, a day after he restarted his campaign following a 72-hour ban.

At the rally, Yogi had attacked the opposition Samajwadi Party candidate in Sambhal. “Once I was in Parliament, and I asked the SP candidate, who was the MP from Sambhal, as to who were his predecessors; he said he was.”

ECI’s decisions were announced hours after the Supreme Court asked the commission to rule by May 6 on remaining complaints against Modi, Amit Shah and Congres president Rahul Gandhi for alleged violations of the model code.

Congress spokesperson Pranav Jha said: “The EC’s decisions are more relevant for PM Modi and Amit Shah as they are habitual violators, and have been aided by a lenient EC. Rahul Gandhi does not have much to worry as he was not trying to garner votes through illegal means. In 11 complaints, it took the EC 30 days to respond to one. Under pressure from the Supreme Court, it looks like the EC is hurriedly disposing of cases without looking at the merits of the complaints.”

The lawyer for EC informed a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi that it had already decided on two out of 11 complaints lodged by the Congress party (the decision on the third was announced on Thursday evening). The court was hearing a petition filed by Congress Lok Sabha MP Sushmita Dev accusing the ECI of inaction on the party’s complaints.

“The remaining representations of the petitioners shall be decided by the Election Commission before we hear the matter again on Monday [May 6],” ordered the bench, also comprising justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna. ECI had earlier given a clean chit to PM Modi on two of the complaints made by the Congress. One related to his April 9 speech in Latur, Maharashtra, in which he urged first-time voters to dedicate their votes to the air force personnel who carried out an air strike on a terror camp in Pakistan on February 26, and the 40 paramilitary troopers who died in a suicide car bombing in Pulwama. The other complaint was over Modi’s speech in Wardha, Maharashtra, on April 1 in which he said Wayanad in Kerala was a constituency in which the “minority is majority,” in an attack aimed at Congress president Rahul Gandhi who chose it as his second seat in addition to Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.

Dev has claimed that inaction by the EC on Congress complaints was a sign of “invidious discrimination.”

“Since March 10, that is the date on which General Elections, were notified, the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah, specifically in sensitive areas and states, have ex-facie violated the provisions of the Representation of People’s Act and the Conduct of Election Rules and the process, thereof,” read the petition. Dev said EC’s silence on the complaints was arbitrary, capricious and impermissible as “it was destructive of the integrity of electoral process.” “It is in public domain that they have indulged in hate speeches, repeatedly used the armed forces for political propaganda, despite a clear prohibition on the same by the EC,” her petition alleged. She said she was forced to move the top court for a quick decision on the complaints made by the Congress party, which EC is unable to do despite cogent evidence placed before it.

“The inactions, omissions and commissions by the EC are in complete and direct violation of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution and which are impeding free, fair and unbiased General Elections,” read the plea. She referred to the EC’s circulars that prohibit parties and candidates from using pictures of armed forces for their propaganda and speeches invoking religious sentiments.

First Published:
May 03, 2019 00:30 IST

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