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Explainer: Rahul Gandhi's ‘Panauti’ Remark Against Modi That Got Him EC Notice

The Congress has also moved the Election Commission on November 28, and flagged poll code violations by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah for their remarks including “moorkhon ka sardar” and “Rahu-Ketu”.

New Delhi: Ever since the Election Commission served notice to Congress MP Rahul Gandhi on November 22 for violating the Model Code of Conduct for referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a “panauti” (harbinger of bad luck), a debate has raged about the appropriateness of the term, the language Modi himself has used and the EC’s own approach to the model code of conduct.

Apart from filing a complaint with the EC, the BJP has used the remark made by Gandhi in poll rallies in Telangana, which went to the polls on November 30. It says that whenever “below the belt language” is used against the prime minister, the voters have given a “befitting reply”.

The Congress, on the other hand, has also moved the Election Commission on November 28, and flagged poll code violations by Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah for their remarks including his reference to Rahul Gandhi as “moorkhon ka sardar” (chief of fools) and “Rahu-Ketu” (an inauspicious omen).

What did Rahul Gandhi say?

At a rally in Baytu, Rajasthan on November 21, Gandhi referred to Modi first as a pickpocket and then as “Panauti Modi”.

“The pickpocket never comes alone. One comes from the front and starts talking to you and distracts you by diverting your attention here and there. The second one comes from behind and picks your pocket and goes. But the pickpocket first diverts your attention,” he said in the livestream of the speech shared by the Congress on its YouTube channel.

“In India what is the biggest issue in the country? It is unemployment, poverty and inflation. Have you ever seen these issues on TV? Will you ever see an unemployed youth on TV? No you will not. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s job is to divert your attention and Adani’s job is to pick your pocket. One comes on TV and distracts the public by raising topics of Hindu-Muslim,” Gandhi continued.

Referring to India’s cricket World Cup final match loss against Australia, Gandhi referred to Modi as “Panauti Modi.”

“He will go to a cricket match. It’s a separate thing that he caused the loss (harva diya). Panauti…PM means Panauti Modi,” he said.

A separate clip shared on the Congress’s X handle also shows Gandhi laughing and responding to the crowd which can be heard shouting “panauti”.

“What? Panauti…panauti…our boys would win the World Cup. But our Panauti made us lose. TV will not say this but the public knows,” said Gandhi.

Panauti trend on X

Prior to Gandhi’s remark, when the World Cup final was underway on November 19, the hashtag Panauti was trending on social media platform X (formerly Twitter) with many accounts sharing photos and videos of Modi attending the match and referring to him as “Panauti.”

Some accounts linked to opposition parties also linked India’s World Cup loss with Modi being prime minister.

Some also linked it to Modi’s bad luck that could not be changed by renaming the Motera stadium to the Narendra Modi stadium, where the match was being played.

What does panauti mean?

According to a report in the Indian Express, while the word “panauti” in common parlance implies harbinger of bad luck, it is derived from astrology. The report said that “panuti” refers to a phase of hard times that begins in a person’s life due to the movement of Shani dev, or saturn.

Panuti and saadhe-saati (a seven-and-a-half year period of difficulties) are triggered when Saturn moves into certain specific positions with respect to a person’s birth moon sign.

In popular culture, the word “panauti” is now used to refer to any person or event or period that is troublesome.

BJP complaint to EC

Following Gandhi’s comments on November 21, the BJP moved the Election Commission the next day and alleged that the Congress leader had violated the Model Code of Conduct.

The BJP complaint said that the use of the words “jebkatra” and “panauti” in reference to the prime minister was “unbecoming of a very senior leader of a national political party”.

In its show cause notice to Gandhi, the EC  said that the use of the word “panauti” falls under Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 referring to corrupt practices as it attempts to make an elector believe that he or she “will become or will be rendered an object of divine displeasure or spiritual censure”.

The EC also referred to its advisory from May 5 in which it expressed concern about the “plummeting level of political discourse in the campaign period” and advised all parties to confine themselves within the Model Code of Conduct and decency in public discourse.

Gandhi was asked to respond to the notice by November 25.

Later while campaigning in Telangana on November 25, Shah referred to the Gandhi’s comments and said that whenever bad language is used against the prime minister, the voters give a befitting reply.

“Whenever below the belt language was used about the Prime Minister, people have given a befitting reply in whichever state in the country. I am confident that voters of Telangana would give a fitting reply through voting on this language which is below the belt,” he was quoted as saying by PTI.

Congress’s counter complain: “Moorkho ka sardar”

On November 28, the Congress moved the Election Commission flagging poll code violations by Modi and Shah and said that action should be taken against violators irrespective of the posts they hold.

“The first [of the three complaints was]…the Hon’ble Prime Minister talking in idiom and calling the opposition leaders Murkhon ka Sardar [leader of fools]. The second is the one which involves the home minister in which he has ascribed the ‘Rahu-Ketu’ syndrome to the leaders of the Congress party,” said senior advocate, MP and Congress Working Committee member Abhishek Singhvi to the media after the meeting.

“These provocative statements are being made deliberately as part of a consistent pattern of personal, unproven and baseless attacks made against the Gandhi family since 2013. Not once since then has the Hon’ble Commission stepped in to correct the discourse and take action against these offenders. It is high time that the Hon’ble Commission enforce its mandate against the individuals in question who are habitual offenders in this regard. No matter how high they may be, no individual is above the law in a democracy governed by the Constitution of India and the law must apply to all equally,” the party said.

Ashok Lavasa was the only member of the three member Election Commission to rule that Modi had violated the Model Code of Conduct while campaigning for the 2019 general election.

Shortly after, even though he was due to take over as Chief Election Commissioner as per norms of seniority that have been followed for years, Lavasa opted to quit the Election Commission and join the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as vice-president where he now works.