#PollVault: Controversy Around EC's Decision-Making Refuses to Die Down

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New Delhi: Four phases of Lok Sabha polls are over, but the controversy around the Election Commission’s independence refuses to die down.

On Monday morning, the Supreme Court sought the EC’s response on Congress leader Sushmita Dev’s plea alleging inaction by the poll panel against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah for allegedly using hate speech and invoking the armed forces for political propaganda.

Opposition parties have made multiple complaints against the two BJP leaders ever since the election campaign began.

Soon after the top court’s instructions, the poll body came out with three different decisions that put the spotlight on it again.

The EC gave a clean chit to Modi, deciding that the prime minister did not violate the Model Code of Conduct at Wardha, where he took a dig at Congress president Rahul Gandhi for contesting in Wayanad, Kerala.

“The Congress insulted Hindus. People have decided to punish it in the election. Leaders of that party are now scared of contesting from constituencies dominated by the majority (Hindu) population. That is why they are forced to take refuge in places where the majority is a minority,” Modi had said.

Although the Congress had alleged that the prime minister used divisive and polarising remarks against Gandhi to seek votes, the EC did not find him at fault.

At the same time, the poll body barred the Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan from the election campaign for the second time. EC officials said that Khan was put on a 48-hour ban for provocative remarks against poll authorities in Uttar Pradesh and making communal statements.

Khan, who faced his first ban first for making derogatory remarks against Jaya Prada, the BJP candidate from Rampur, had allegedly said on April 25, “During Kargil war, Indian soldiers comprising both Hindus and Muslims defeated Pakistanis. The Indian soldiers shouted ‘Naara-e-Takbeer Allahu Akbar’ slogan to fool the Pakistanis, who mistook them for their own soldiers and came out of their cover. After this Indian soldiers easily defeated them.”

The EC’s promptness in taking decisions was also questioned on Monday when it barred the BJP’s Gujarat chief Jitubhai Vaghani from campaigning for 72 hours. EC officials said that Vaghani used “intemperate and abusive” language in his speeches.

However, Twitter users mocked the EC’s decision as polls in Gujarat ended on April 23.

As the campaign pitch hit a high, opposition clamour against Modi grew as several leaders, including Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav and Arvind Kejriwal, demanded action against Modi for openly claiming that “40 TMC MLAs” were in touch with him. Opposition leaders said the prime minister himself admitted to have indulged in horse-trading during the poll season.

Rahul Gandhi’s citizenship controversy

In other news, the Congress president dominated headlines through the day for all the wrong reasons. Acting on a complaint by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs sent a notice to Gandhi seeking a “factual” reply about his nationality within 14 days.

Swamy has for years been claiming that rahul is a British citizen. His claim is based on annual returns documents of a British company in which Rahul was a director.

In 2015, the Supreme Court had dismissed his plea and had found no merit in his claim. The complaint was also dismissed by a parliamentary ethics committee headed by BJP leader L.K. Advani later that year. The EC had also earlier dismissed Swamy’s claim.

Also read: What Happens if the 2019 Elections Lead to a Hung House?

That the government chose the election season to act on his complaint naturally raised eyebrows. Union home minister Rajnath Singh said that his ministry was only following the procedure and that if an MP raises a complaint, the ministry had to send a notice. He also said that the timing of the notice to Gandhi was “irrelevant”.

The Congress, on the other hand, attacked the BJP for using a cheap tactic against the opposition party’s president. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra called Swamy’s claim “rubbish”.

“Everyone knows Rahul Gandhi is Indian and was born and raised here,” she said.

“Chowkidar Chor Hai” slogan haunts Gandhi

It was bad day for the Congress president. A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi rebuked Gandhi for failing to tender an “unqualified apology” for attributing the “Chowkidar Chor hai” to the Supreme Court bench in the Rafale deal case.

The BJP has sought the court’s intervention in the matter. The bench had asked Gandhi to issue an apology. Gandhi had then filed an affidavit expressing regret for incorrectly attributing the comment to the court.

However, on Monday, CJI Gogoi, while hearing the criminal contempt petition filed by BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi, said, “We have great difficulty in understanding what you want to say in the affidavit… What is the meaning of regret? All we see is justifications.”

The next hearing over the matter will be on May 6. The Congress president now has time till next Monday to file an “explicit apology” as demanded by the court.

Mayawati’s threat and Nitish Kumar’s discomfort

Meanwhile, the relationship between the Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress took yet another blow as Mayawati said that it will review its decision to support the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh.

Her statement came after her party candidate from Madhya Pradesh’s Guna, Lokendra Singh Rajput, withdrew his candidature and joined the Congress in the presence of Jyotiraditya Scindia.

The BSP chief alleged that Congress misused the official machinery to force her party’s candidate to withdraw from electoral race.

Also read: Kanpur’s Tanneries Are Collateral Damage in UP’s Polarised Electoral Battle

In other state news, an interesting video clip of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar did the rounds of social media.

Rumours that Nitish has been less than comfortable with ally BJP have already been afloat. The Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Rabri Devi and Tejashwi Yadav had earlier claimed that Nitish wanted to come back to the mahagathbandhan. The chief minister, however, categorically denied these claims by RJD leaders.

Against this backdrop, Nitish’s lack of enthusiasm in chanting “Vande Mataram” and “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” at a recent Modi rally in Darbhanga did create some flutter in Bihar’s political circles again. Take a look.