On Wednesday, the Election Commission (EC) had ordered FIRs against news channels that aired Rahul Gandh’s interview and also served him a show cause notice for violating the model code of conduct prohibiting display of election matter 48 hours ahead of voting.
As Gujarat went for the second a final phase of polling on Thursday, the Congress alleged Prime Minister Narendra had Modi violated the Model Code of Conduct by holding a roadshow after casting his vote.
Taking to Twitter, Congress leader and former union minister for finance and home, P Chidambaram, claimed the Prime Minister conducted a “full fledged campaign” on the day of polling, and condemned the Election Commission for “sleeping on the job.”
Party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said the EC has “abdicated its constitutional responsibility.” Addressing a press conference, Surjewala said, “A desperate Prime Minister facing defeat in Gujarat holds a Road Show with BJP flags, Flagrantly Flouts the Constitution and Code of Conduct. A Puppet Election Commission looks on with complicity denigrating its role of an independent Arbiter.”
Modi went to cast his vote at a polling booth in Rapin area of Ahmedabad around noon. A huge crowd had gathered outside, waiting for his arrival.
As Modi came out after casting his vote, instead of going straight to his car, as all other VIP voters had done through the day, the PM chose to walk on the road. He walked for a few kilometres as he turned this into a mini-roadshow, waving to cheering supporters and flashed the indelible ink mark on his finger for the cameras, reported News18. He then got into his car and left the area.
The Congress immediately launched a full-fledged attack. It was already seething over a showcause notice to party’s president-elect Rahul Gandhi to TV news channels against whom, too, the EC took action and ordered FIRs to be lodged for violating the model code of conduct. Chidambaram tweeted: “Allowing a roadshow of PM on voting day is a gross violation of code of conduct. It is an election campaign. What is the EC doing?”
AICC Gujarat in-charge Ashok Gehlot, addressing a press conference in Delhi, said, “When the Prime Minister holds a roadshow in Gujarat after voting, what lessons will the country draw from this? The rules and laws are being openly flouted in Gujarat and the whole country is watching this.”
The Model Code of Conduct states: “Criticism of other political parties, when made, shall be confined to their policies and programme, past record and work” and “All parties and candidates shall avoid scrupulously all activities which are “corrupt practices” and offences under the election law, such as bribing of voters, intimidation of voters, impersonation of voters, canvassing within 100 meters of polling stations, holding public meetings during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the close of the poll, and the transport and conveyance of voters to and from polling station.”
The second and final phase of the Gujarat elections is being held today (Thursday, Dec 14). The votes will be counted on December 18.
Surjewala also criticised the poll panel: “EC’s conspiratorial silence and absolute inaction reflects as to how one more independent institution in our polity has become a puppet at the whims and fancy of Bhartiya Janata Party. The double snatandard of Election Commission can be gauged by the fact that while it registers an FIR against news channels and news papers for holding an interview of Congress President, Shri Rahul Gandhi at New Delhi; it gives a free licence to BJP and r to violate the law, the Constitution and Code of Conduct as it meekly surrenders itself and prostrates before the Prime Minister and the ruling party.”
“The EC has sidelined itself from all Constitutional responsibilities and liabilities,” said Surjewala. Directly attacking chief election commissioner (CEC) AK Joti, he said: “The CEC may have been the former personal secretary to the current Prime Minister, he may have served as an official in the state of Gujarat, but as CEC we expected him to discharge his duty neutrally. The EC has become a puppet of the BJP. We urge the EC to uphold the Constitution and not act as a subservient wing of the BJP.”
Surjewala said, “Why has the Election Commission turned a blind eye towards Amit Shah’s press conference on Wednesday at a public place like the Ahmedabad airport. The Chief Election Commissioner, Achal Kumar Joti, who worked as the chief secretary to then CM Narendra Modi, continues to act like Modi’s personal secretary, despite him holding a Constitutional post. The EC had on Wednesday promised that they will take action against PM Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, who violated the Model Code of Conduct. Today, though, the EC is saying that they will take action after polling closes.”
Chidambaram also questioned the Election Commission (EC) for its notice to party’s president-elect Rahul Gandhi for giving media interviews while ignoring similar acts of BJP leaders.
In a series of tweets, Chidambaram accused the EC of sleeping on the job and also asked people in Gujarat to exercise their franchise and “change” the BJP government in the state.
“Yesterday, Prime Minister made a speech. BJP’s president gave an interview. Railway Minister gave an interview. Why have all these escaped the EC’s attention? Why pick on only Mr Rahul Gandhi’s interview?” Chidambaram asked.
Upon a complaint lodged by the BJP, the EC had, on Wednesday, ordered FIRs against news channels that aired Rahul Gandh’s interview and also served him a show cause notice for violating the legal provision that prohibits display of election matter 48 hours ahead of voting.
Gandhi was asked to reply by December 18, failing which it will decide the matter without any reference to him.
The decision evoked a strong reaction from the Congress which rushed a delegation of six leaders, including Randeep Surjewala, Anand Sharma and Ahmed Patel, to the Commission on Wednesday night to protest the move and seek withdrawal of the order.
Surjewala dubbed the order “discriminatory” and an attack on free speech and said the EC cannot have different yardsticks to apply the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). The party questioned the Commission’s decision on the ground that it did not initiate action against newschannels for airing BJP President Amit Shah’s interview and union minister Piyush Goyal’s press conference the same day. It reminded EC of its inaction in 2014 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave interviews a day ahead of polling in more than one poll phase during the Lok Sabha elections. Congress also cited Modi’s public meetings in Gujarat on December 9, which were telecast live by channels even as voting was underway.
The Congress also petitioned the poll body for action against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for addressing an event organised by an industry body on the eve of the final phase of the Gujarat polls where he attacked the main opposition party.
The Congress claimed that no FIR was registered against BJP president Amit Shah and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal for holding press conference in Ahmedabad and Delhi respectively.
The EC’s action against newchannels and Gandhi followed a complaint filed by BJP which, apart from seeking action against Gandhi, also sought cancellation of license of the local media channels which aired Gandhi’s interview. It named four media channels namely ABP Asmita Gujarati, VTV, GSTV and Zee 24hrs. Although Gujarat CEO BB Swain told The Indian Express that FIRs will be lodged against five newschannels, he did not name them.
Reacting to the EC order, Shreyans Shah, owner of the Gujarat Samachar group that operates GSTV television said, “The interview run by GSTV was about the induction of Rahul Gandhi as the Congress president. It does not have anything to do with Gujarat elections. We have neither mentioned Gujarat elections, or talked about the candidates contesting polls, so we are not on the wrong-side. In fact on December 9 (during Phase-I) we have carried interviews of BJP candidates. We have followed the same pattern.” Shah said that such “old rules” in age of social-media are “not desirable.”
“On one hand you are restricting media, and on the other hand you are passing on the same information you are trying to give through social media. There is no ban on social media. It is contradictory,” Shah added.