Politics

After BJP’s Third ‘Offending’ Election Message, EC Pulls the Plug on Hate Ads in Bihar

New Delhi: Hot on the heels of the BJP’s third inflammatory campaign advertisement in Bihar, the Election Commission on Wednesday ordered a blanket ban on the publication of any election ad in newspapers on November 5 – polling day for the last phase of the assembly elections  – “which has not been pre-certified” by a special panel.

The latest BJP advertisement shows a young Hindu woman cuddling a garlanded cow and questions Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s “silence” in the face of his alliance partners’ “repeated insults” to “the cow  that is revered by all Indians”. Demanding that Nitish “stop playing vote bank politics”, the ad asks him to answer whether he agreed with statements by RJD leaders Lalu Prasad Yadav and Raghuvansh Prasad Singh – that Hindus also eat beef and that in ancient times, sadhus and rishis did so t0o – and Congress leader and Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah that no one would be able to stop him if he wanted to eat beef.

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Noting that it had already directed newspapers not to publish any advertisements which have the potential of promoting ill-will, hatred or disharmony, the EC in its fresh advisory said that despite this direction, certain advertisements of  an “offending nature” were published in Bihar’s newspapers on November 4.

Without naming the BJP in its communication, the EC invoked its powers under Article 324 of the Constitution and declared: “In order that no such instance is repeated on the date of poll which is to take place tomorrow, and no untoward incident takes place because of any inflammatory or hate advertisements, the Commission… directs that no political party or candidate or any other organisation or person shall publish any advertisement in the newspapers tomorrow unless the contents proposed to be published are got pre-certified by them from the Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC).”

The move followed a representation from the grand alliance parties, including JD(U) and Congress, against the advertisement, which they alleged was intended to “polarise [the] Bihar elections by promoting communal hatred”. In Dehi, the Aam Aadmi Party said the “BJP’s official newspaper ad in Bihar has surpassed BJP’s own standards of communally inciteful politics.”

The BJP, however, defended its action with senior party leader in Bihar Sushil Kumar Modi saying,”There is nothing wrong in our advertisement on [the] beef issue. “We were not the first to raise the issue. It was Lalu who did. We have just responded.”

Ironically, some of the quotations cited in the BJP advertisement could just as easily have been taken from BJP leaders. “For example, I am from Arunachal Pradesh, I eat beef, can someone stop me,” Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju had said in May this year, in a rhetorical statement very similar to Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah’s.

On October 30, the Election Commission banned two other advertisements issued by the BJP in Bihar that were aimed at polarising Hindus and Muslims, concluding they were inflammatory:

The Commission has perused the said advertisements which appeared under the heading:

  • Voton ki kheti ke liye aatank ki fasal seenchtha kya sushasan hai? (‘Is good governance about harvesting votes by sowing terrorism?’)
  • Daliton-Pichhadon ki thali kheench, alpasankhyakon ko aarkashan parosney ka shadyantra kya sushasan hai? (‘Is it good governance to hatch a conspiracy to snatch reservations from Dalits and Backwards and give it to the minorities?’)

On said perusal, the Commission is of the firm view that both the advertisements have the potential of aggravating the differences between different classes of citizens of India and also creating mutual hatred, ill-will and disharmony.

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The first advertisement accused Nitish Kumar of being soft on terror in order to win the support of Muslims, while the second repeated the accusation first made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an election speech on October 26 and then repeated by him on at least two other occasions that Nitish would help Muslims grab affirmative action quotas away from Dalits and OBCs.

Curiously, while the EC banned the BJP’s anti-Muslim ad on the grounds that its contents would create “mutual hatred, ill-will and disharmony”, it has not censured the Prime Minister for saying the same things at an election rally.

The EC has ticked off RJD chief Lalu Prasad for violating the model code of conduct by making personal remarks against Modi (‘brahmpishach‘, or demon) and Shah (‘narbhakshi‘, or cannibal) and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for saying that the BJP’s plan is to get Hindus and Muslims to fight one another. This, the EC said, violated the model code of conduct as it amounted to levelling “unverified allegations” against an opponent.

While neither leader was accused of fomenting communal hatred in their campaigning, the EC has faulted the BJP president on those grounds.

On November 1, it pulled up Amit Shah for saying that if Nitish wins, celebratory crackers will be burst in Pakistan. This remark “has the potential of disturbing harmony and aggravating the existing differences between social and religious communities,” the commission said.

Shah was briefly banned from campaigning during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls after he made a communally inflammatory speech in west Uttar Pradesh.

(With inputs from PTI)