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New Delhi: Tuesday (April 9) was the last day for parties to campaign in constituencies voting in the first phase of the general election.
The ‘silent period’ – a moratorium on electioneering ahead of voting day – kicked in on Tuesday night in the Telugu states, Uttarakhand, most of the Northeast, Vidarbha and parts of central India, as well as parts of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jammu.
Before any silence began, however, the prime minister raised a racket – one loud enough to finally stir the Election Commission (EC). At three rallies – in Latur in Maharashtra, Chitradurga in Karnataka and Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu – he gave speeches equating a vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party with a vote for the servicemen who died in Pulwama and who struck back at Balakot.
“I want to ask my first-time voters, can your first vote be dedicated to the soldiers who conducted the Balakot airstrikes?” Modi told the crowd at Latur. “Can your first vote be in the name of the martyrs who lost their lives in Pulwama?”
“Congress wants to give an open licence to anti nationals,” he said. “This is exactly what Pakistan wants. How can you trust such a party?”
He expanded on the theme in Chitradurga, adding that the opposition was in tears when India attacked the militant base in Pakistan. “I want to ask the chief minister [H.D. Kumaraswamy] whether his vote bank is in India or in Pakistan,” Modi said, according to The Hindu.
The EC has explicitly asked parties to “desist, as part of their election campaigning, from indulging in any political propaganda involving activities of defence forces”. It did the same before the 2014 election. This year, its notice was specifically a response to the armed confrontation in February.
However, the prime minister will not desist. The reason is that Modi’s popularity, dipping low in January, has risen by as much as ten points thanks to the optics of the Balakot air strike. (In the actual period between the Pulwama suicide-attack and India’s counter-strike at Balakot, the prime minister remained busy campaigning and travelling.)
Our Armed Forces refused to become Indira’s Sena, and they shall never become Modi’s Sena either. But tragically the EC seems to lacks the institutional pride and self-respect of our Armed Forces.
— Ramachandra Guha (@Ram_Guha) April 9, 2019
The day before, a group of retired civil servants had written a letter to the president, protesting “the ECI’s pusillanimity in coming down with a heavy hand” on violations by the ruling party.
By Tuesday night, the EC announced it had “taken cognisance” of the prime minister’s speech in Latur. It has asked its top official in Maharashtra for a report. The EC also met with revenue officials to discuss the spate of raids on opposition leaders in four non-BJP states – in which large quantities of cash were seized, but under dubious orders.
In the case of the income-tax raids on Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath, the value of the cash seizure was tweeted by a BJP party official hours before it was confirmed by the Central Board of Direct Taxes.
Anyway, the prime minister need not sink to giving speeches to take credit for the work of security forces. He has a brigade of movie producers doing it for him. On Tuesday, the film PM Narendra Modi – which could be described as a romantic comedy about Modi’s love affair with himself – was passed by the Censor Board.
However, the board asked for 11 cuts – including a scene of Modi monitoring anti-terror operations from the location of an attack, which was cut “because of a lack of documentary proof”.
Other scenes will be cut because of a similar lack of documentary proof, or else for their allegedly communal dialogues.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, security forces continued to lose their lives – this time in Dantewada, which was also entering the silent period ahead of voting on April 11. A Naxal attack on a convoy left five dead – a BJP MLA, his driver and three security personnel.
Modi, home minister Rajnath Singh, and BJP president Amit Shah tweeted their tributes to the MLA, Bhima Mandavi, as well as the security personnel – without naming the latter.
Strongly condemn the Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh. My tributes to the security personnel who were martyred. The sacrifices of these martyrs will not go in vain.
— Chowkidar Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 9, 2019
Shri Bhima Mandavi was a dedicated Karyakarta of the BJP. Diligent and courageous, he assiduously served the people of Chhattisgarh. His demise is deeply anguishing. Condolences to his family and supporters. Om Shanti.
— Chowkidar Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 9, 2019
They were head constables Ramlal Oymi and Chhaggan Kuldeep and reserve Somdu Kawasi. The driver was Danteshwar Maurya.
Striking a different note on the question of politicians’ security, minister for external affairs Sushma Swaraj said that Rahul Gandhi should “give up his Special Protection Group cover” – his state security detail – if he did not believe terrorism was an election issue. “This will save the country huge sums of money,” she said.
Rahul Gandhi’s father, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated by an LTTE suicide-bomber in 1991, after his security detail was cut by the V.P. Singh government.
Rahul responded to the prime minister’s jibes, calling him ‘a coward’ and tweeting a challenge to a debate on corruption.