#PollVault: If Not Modi, Who? Mamata, Maya or Naidu, Says Pawar – Leaving Someone Out

The opposition continued to hammer on the doors of the Election Commission, asking for restraints on the prime minister’s campaign expenses and rhetoric.

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New Delhi: South India and the Northeastern states are done. The fourth phase of voting, on April 29, moves the election decisively into the Hindi heartland – the sweep of saffron that emerged on the electoral map of 2014.

The day before the fourth phase, on Sunday, April 28, the Congress party pressed its claim that the Election Commission of India (ECI) was failing its mandate in taking action against anyone other than Narendra Modi or Amit Shah.

In Mumbai, former finance minister P. Chidambaram told the press that the ECI was “failing the people of the country” by not investigating the BJP’s massive outlay on Modi’s rallies. “About ten crore is spent on each rally,” he said.

Last week, The Wire compiled reports on both the anonymous fund-raising by the ruling BJP – often times the combined income of opposition parties – as well as its massive expenditure on campaigns.

“They (EC) are adding what it is called notional expenditure to the expenditure account of the candidates,” Chidambaram said (referring to the ECI’s practice of including the unpaid, freely gifted services on candidates’ election expense returns).

“If you apply the same standard, every BJP candidate will be disqualified.”

By Sunday evening, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee had reprised the same theme – she accused the BJP of buying votes, and said she would ask the ECI to seek an accounting of the spending on Modi’s rallies.

Meanwhile, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi told NDTV that the party would go around the ECI, and file suit in court about the election watchdog’s inaction.

Also read: In 2019, Is BJP Riding a Modi Wave or a Money Wave?

“Some kind of a silence, fear envelops them when directly the PM and the president of the ruling party are involved,” he said. “My question is simple … are the prime minister and Amit Shah above the law? Is it the Modi Code of Conduct?”

Singhvi underlined Modi’s allegedly communal speeches, as well as his relentless campaign to appropriate the valour and sacrifices of the armed forces – despite the ECI’s explicit directions that parties not politicise the military. In his latest provocative remark, on Saturday, the PM went so far as to say, “Jab maine waha jaakar ke aatankwaadiyon ko maara… (When I went over there and killed the terrorists)” in taking credit for the Balakot airstrikes.

According to PTI, the Congress has made 37 complaints to the ECI, of which ten concern “hate speeches, virulent, divisive, polarising” by Modi and Amit Shah. The ECI’s only actions against the ruling duo have been to delay the release of a biopic, PM Narendra Modi, and to suspend a web series, both of which functioned as surrogate political advertising.

Also read: Election Commission Accused of Violating MCC for Delaying Action on Modi

Meanwhile, BJP leaders sent their own complaints to the ECI about Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal – one about the AAP leader “misguiding” voters about the fiscal relationship between the Centre and Delhi, and another about him distorting Amit Shah’s statement on illegal migrants, by presenting them as communal threats against Indian citizens.

Also on Sunday, Kejriwal’s golden girl Atishi continued to play hardball with her hapless BJP rival for the East Delhi Lok Sabha seat, Gautam Gambhir.

On Friday, Atishi revealed evidence that Gambhir, a former cricketing star, was registered to vote in two constituencies – an illegality that could, potentially, not just disqualify him from the election but put him in jail. By Sunday, Gambhir had not yet denied the charges, but he did accuse Atishi of lacking a vision. “When you have a vision you don’t do such negative politics,” he said.

He could have picked a better line of delivery, since Atishi has been the education advisor behind the AAP’s remarkable thrust to improve government schools. On Twitter, she rattled off a list of her party’s achievements in five years, and knocked the question right back at the cricketer, asking about his work and vision for East Delhi.

Now that the election has moved north of the Vindhyas and west of the Chicken’s Neck, the state that stands apart from the rest is Jammu & Kashmir. Two areas are yet to vote – Leh and Anantnag. The latter may be the most sensitive in the entire country; so much so that the one constituency alone is being polled in three phases.

Not an easy place to campaign for the BJP. Whereas in Srinagar, the BJP candidate swapped out the colour saffron for green on ads and banners, in Anantnag, the party wants to sneak in mixed signals about its plans for the state’s special status.

While elsewhere, BJP has flexed their muscles over Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution, on Sunday, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav visited Anantnag and minced his words, saying the decision would be made by parliament.

Eventually – in fact, less than a month – beyond these waves of deception, desperation and recrimination are a result that all of India will have to live with. If the victory is not to the BJP and its allies, then who will be India’s prime minister?

Sharad Pawar, chief of the National Congress Party – the principal Congress ally in Maharashtra – said the top contenders could be any of three chief ministers: Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati or Chandrababu Naidu. Much of the media seized on his exclusion of Rahul Gandhi, but Pawar brushed it off, saying Rahul had himself said he was not a candidate for PM – which is just news to most of the electorate.

Follow The Wire’s complete coverage of the 2019 elections here.