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New Delhi: Over the past two weeks, a question on many Indians’ minds has been, Will the Election Commission act? In the weeks ahead, it is likely to be replaced with: Oh, was that it?
On Friday, April 5, the ombudsmen of Indian democracy reached a guilty verdict on two violations. One was the speech by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath, hailing the Indian Army as “Modiji ki Sena”, or Modiji’s Army.
After widespread condemnation – including by the BJP’s own minister, General V.K. Singh – the EC issued a letter offering Adityanath ‘sachet rehne ki salah’, or advice to be more careful.
The second violation was NITI Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar’s attack on the Congress over its minimum income guarantee. “The spirit of Model Code of Conduct requires all public servants to ensure the sanctity of the electoral process,” and to “be impartial in their conduct but also in their public utterances”, it said in its letter to Rajiv Kumar.
“The Commission has therefore decided to convey its displeasure to you for your comments and expects that you shall exercise caution in future.”
Yet the violations seem to be piling up faster than the EC can compose its letters of gentle reprimand. On Friday, opposition parties sought “fast track legal action” on a detailed exposé in HuffPost India about the ‘Association of Billion Minds’. The ABM is a “shadowy outfit” that has driven the BJP’s five-year campaign, and secretly built and controlling its online propaganda.
“Fast track” seems optimistic. A day earlier, the EC’s letter indicting Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh – who publicly declared, “It is important for the society that Modi becomes prime minister” – crept on down the pipeline to reach the Ministry of Home Affairs.
And on Friday, the body “sought a response” from Doordarshan after the state broadcaster aired the prime minister’s ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ event, on TV as well as on its YouTube channel. The Congress raised an alert about the ruling party “using government-owned news channels … [to] advertise their election campaign”.
Watch this space to see if the EC conveys more displeasure or not.
While seeking responses and writing letters about the flood of Narendra Modi propaganda through dubious TV channels, film productions, and social media machines, the EC acted more robustly against the opposition. It removed the chief secretary of Andhra Pradesh, a favoured officer of chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, over an issue of compliance with a previous order. The state government responded with strong words, alleging that the ECI order “is based on alien purposes or oblique motives”.
Naidu conveyed his displeasure to the EC.
“They may also arrest me tomorrow or day after,” he said. “I am prepared to go to jail; I will fight from there itself.”
Meanwhile, in neighbouring Telangana, the BJP’s candidate from Karimnagar called for “surgical strikes” on his rival party, Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM.
In New Delhi, the EC refused permission to the Congress to use six videos, one of them about the Rafale deal. Its objection? One video featured a disabled person. Another depicted a syringe of tri-coloured liquid. And the Rafale deal, the EC said, is still sub-judice – which will be a surprise to many BJP supporters.
And the makers of the cultish biopic PM Narendra Modi announced its released be pushed from Friday, April 5 to Thursday April 11 (the day of phase-one voting).
Speaking on NDTV, lead actor Viveik Oberoi defended the film, saying its producers had no connection to the party. The same evening, Oberoi’s name appeared on the BJP’s list of star campaigners for Gujarat.
It is known from history that each generation of radicals devours the one before it, and on Friday that process continued within the Bharatiya Janata Party. After the involuntary retirement of L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi – producing a whimper of reaction on Advani’s blog – the ruling party got Sumitra Mahajan, the speaker of the 16th Lok Sabha, to drop out of the race.
Mahajan is an eight-term MP from Indore, which makes her India’s longest-serving woman MP. But the BJP had stalled too long to nominate its Indore candidate, and Mahajan folded, saying she would “leave the party free to make a decision on the seat.”
The optics of her exit were not just generational takeover, but gendered, a day after BJP spokesperson Shaina N.C. was denied a ticket, and suddenly awoke to “the male chauvinistic mindset in my party, in all other parties too.” The BJP used to boast that the 16th Lok Sabha had the most women MPs so far – 62, where the previous house had 58.
This no longer seems like a top party priority. As of Friday, the Congress had nominated the most women candidates (47/344, 13.7%). This includes some bold bets, as in Vijayapura and Bagalkote in north Karnataka, where the Congress-JD(S) alliance has put up two women candidates – “despite the outright misogyny that the region is known for”, The News Minute notes.
The BJP is just behind at 12% – and both national parties are being schooled by the Trinamool Congress (over 40%).
Meanwhile, insisting on their own representation – against the odds – two Dalit candidates will stand in Andhra and Gujarat in memory of victims of state violence.
Pedapudi Vijay Kumar, a friend of the late Rohith Vemula, received a BSP ticket to contest from the Parchur assembly constituency in Andhra. Velji Rathod, the father of a young Dalit man killed in a police shooting, filed his nomination from Gandhinagar – to stand against Amit Shah, and “send out a message of how the government led by his his party delayed justice to the families of the victims of government excesses.”