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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on India joining the three other countries in the elite space club with successful testing of anti-satellite missile wasn’t a violation of Model Code of Conduct (MCC), the Election Commission (EC) ruled yesterday, (Friday, March 29).

The EC ruling was based on the fact that official machinery — Doordarshan and All India Radio, in this case — wasn’t used for airing Modi’s speech.

“It is clear that Doordarshan has only used the feed provided by ANI. The All India Radio has taken audio output as broadcast by Doordarshan News for dissemination over All India Radio network,” said the report of the five-member committee that was tasked by the EC to ensure that official machinery and government office were not misused to benefit the ruling party, reported The Indian Express (IE).

The committee was asked to examine the matter in “light of the Model Code of Conduct” after the EC received a complaint from CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury hours after the PM’s address on Wednesday.

“Such a mission (Mission Shakti) should normally be announced to the nation and to the world by the relevant scientific authorities like the DRDO. Instead, the Indian Prime Minister has taken the route of an address to the nation in making this announcement. This announcement comes in the midst of the ongoing election campaign where the Prime Minister himself is a candidate. This is clearly a violation of the Model Code of Conduct,” Yechury had written to the EC.

The EC committee, headed by Deputy Election Commissioner Sandeep Saxena, did not go into the aspect of whether the announcement should have been made by DRDO instead of the PM. Its report also did not contain any observations on the contents of the speech.

The EC committee confined itself to looking into whether Modi’s address violated provisions contained in Para (IV) of Part VII titled ‘Party in Power’, which states that the “issue of advertisement at the cost of public exchequer in the newspapers and other media and the misuse of official mass media during the election period for partisan coverage of political news and publicity regarding achievements with a view to furthering the prospects of the party in power shall be scrupulously avoided”.

The committee held three meetings — in one, the Director General of Doordarshan and senior AIR officials were summoned to explain the source of their telecast. While Doordarshan stated its telecast wasn’t live but sourced from news agency ANI, AIR maintained that its source was the “playout” of the video received from ANI.

On Friday night, Yechury took to Twitter to react to the decision: “It is sad and a matter of regret that the Constitutional Authority mandated to conduct free and fair elections has allowed the deception and chicanery by Modi in blatant violation of the Model Code of Conduct.”

Modi-BJP made it a prime poll plank

It is not known whether the EC committee went into the content of PM’s address. While it may be argued that his address on Wednesday passes the test since Modi neither made any new policy announcement nor give his government or party credit for the development, the whole matter hasn’t remained confined to those few hours: it has been invoked repeatedly in election speeches and BJP poll campaign. Modi himself has talked about it several times.

Was the test deliberately timed for election time?

Another question that the narrow point considered by EC avoids – perhaps reflecting its helplessness in the matter – is the question of Modi government’s intent: whether the test was deliberately times for election time to boost its campaign.

Chairman of the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) revealed in an interview with ANI that the project to develop this rare missile capability was green-lit two years ago “and we went into mission mode in the last 6 months”.

After this, about 100 scientists worked round-the-clock to reach the intended launch date target that was set.

Further, reported IE, the target, a de-commissioned Indian satellite, in a “Low-Earth Orbit” at roughly 300 km from the Earth’s surface that was knocked out was Microsat R, a micro-satellite launched by ISRO on January 24 this year.

The timing is ‘interesting’.

But the A-SAT test and Modi’s address to the nation and later using it in election campaign was only the most high-profile recent incident among instances where questions of Model Code of Conduct were raised and EC decision questioned.

Alleged double standards: The governments of Odisha and West Bengal are claiming that state election commissions have halted their state welfare schemes, citing the model code of conduct, even as the EC is permitting Modi’s PM-Kisan, a similar national income support programme, to go ahead.

Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the party in power in Odisha, claimed that the EC in Odisha has ordered the state government not to release any additional money under its Kalia scheme, an income support programme for small farmers, while allowing the Union government to release as much as Rs 19,000 crore under the PM-Kisan scheme, in the middle of election season.

“If on one hand, the BJP’s PM-Kisan Yojana, which is a similar process and came much after the Kalia Yojana, is being allowed, then why are Kalia funds stopped,” asked Biju Janata Dal spokesperson Sasmit Patra. 

Modi and Rahul biopics: A biopic about a serving prime minister ‘PM Narendra Modi’ being released just days before the elections begin has many asking how can this not fall afoul of the model code. The same question can be applied to a web show about Modi’s life, and another movie called ‘My Name is Raga.’

The Bombay High Court (HC) on Friday issued notice to the EC on a petition seeking stay on the release of ‘PM Narendra Modi’ which is scheduled to be released on April 5. On the next hearing, the EC has to be present before the court to reply on the petition.

Bombay HC Chief Justice Naresh Patil and Justice N M Jamdar were hearing a petition filed by activist Satish Gaikwad, seeking stay on the release of the movie and directions to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to remove the movie’s trailer from all social media.

The petition said the time and date of the release of the trailer could not be taken as simpliciter, adding that the move disobeyed the model code of conduct. The petitioner said that by releasing the movie on April 5, the producer will try to “influence the voter to vote in favour of a particular candidate, which may disturb the execution of free and healthy election process”.

Earlier, acting on complaints it received from Congress and other parties as well as other groups, the EC had issued notice to the producers of the Modi biopic.

The producers of the biopic have responded to an Election Commission notice but the BJP, which was also sent a copy, is yet to reply, said media reports.

The Election Commission had sought comments from the makers of the biopic on the Opposition’s demand to postpone its release till the Lok Sabha elections get over.

The Delhi chief electoral officer had already issued a notice to the producers in this regard. The poll body had sought their response on Tuesday on delaying the release.

The producers of PM Narendra Modi on Thursday responded to the Election Commission’s notice on the film saying that the biopic has no links to the BJP. According to an Indian Express report, the producers claimed they had “put in their personal money for the making” of the film.

The Indian Express quoted Hitesh Jain, the lawyer for producers Anand K Pandit, Sandeep Singh, Manish Acharya and Suresh Oberoi, as saying: “The allegations made linking our client’s movie with a political party merely on a few public events, Facebook posts and tweets are not only false but have no basis in either fact and/or law.”

He said the biopic was “produced by our clients and not any political candidates” and advised people to not “jump to the conclusion” only because Vivek Oberoi, who plays the lead protagonist, is known to be sympathetic to the BJP.

As for BJP president Amit Shah and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis being invited to promote the film, the producers submitted that this was done to ensure “resounding commercial success” of the movie. Another reason given was that Shah has also been depicted as a character in the film.

Jain’s claims do not wash, going by reports. The daily reported that Jain is a partner at Parinam Law Associates and a shareholder and director of BlueKraft Digital Foundation. Citing records from the ministry of corporate affairs, it said he owned 50% of the shares in BlueKraft as on March 31, 2018.

Jain told the newspaper that he was an “independent lawyer” and “BlueKraft has nothing to do with this”. He also insisted that BlueKraft has “no link to the government”.

However, a closer look at BlueKraft’s functioning revealed that it has been closely working with BJP and/or its leaders, say reports.

In 2017, it released the first book on “Mann ki Baat” at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Then in 2018, it partnered Modi as “technology and knowledge partner” for Exam Warriors, that was authored by him.

This year on March 2, BlueKraft released the second book on Modi’s “Mann Ki Baat” titled “A Social Revolution on Radio, 50 Episodes Special Edition”.

In January this year, AltNews.in had a story on how BlueKraft was behind spreading misinformation against the political rivals of BJP. AltNews reported that a nine-second clip of Congress president Rahul Gandhi speaking in Lok Sabha about the Rafale deal was tweeted by @knowthenation on January 6. This clip, in which Gandhi is heard saying, “I have no proof so far, but I am very clear that the Prime Minister is directly involved”, was actually taken out of context from a large 4:26 minute video.

Rahul’s reply was directed at defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman: “Defense Minister said that we are accusing her…Madam I am not accusing you and I am not accusing Mr Parrikar. I am accusing Mr Narendra Modi. Let it be absolutely clear that you have done nothing other than try to defend a lie. So I do not think that you are involved in the Rafale scam. I have no proof so far to say that you are involved but I am very clear that the Prime Minister is directly involved in the Rafale scam.”

AltNews said the video had been shared widely by pro-BJP social media platforms. It said “Know The Nation” has been around since December 2017 and is followed by prominent BJP leaders like railway minister Piyush Goyal and Delhi BJP spokesperson Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga.

The investigative site said there also existed a link between BlueKraft and Know The Nation. It quoted the Indian Express saying that they both shared the same landline telephone number.

Moreover, AltNews said: “BlueKraft’s association with the BJP seems to extend further. There is evidence of the company’s connection with three other pro-BJP propaganda platforms – New India Junction, Awemazing World and the protagonist of this story, Know The Nation.”

It said many of BlueKraft’s employees had direct links with The True Picture – which has also been accused of spreading misinformation in the past. It added that a senior creative director at BlueKraft, Nilesh Mistry, listed the handles as part of his responsibilities along with The True Picture and called them ‘in-house blogs’.

Railway tickets and tea cups and airline boarding cards: Days after the MCC came into effect, railway tickets and boarding cards of Air India were found to have PM Modi’s pictures. After protests and media reports, the railway ministry and the airline said they had withdrawn the tickets/boarding cards. The EC asked the Railway and Civil Aviation ministries to explain why Modi’s images have not been removed from train tickets and Air India boarding cards.

Then yesterday (March 29), a passenger on the Shatabdi train tweeted an image of the paper cup with the slogan that was earlier launched by the BJP ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. PM Modi had on March 16, launched the “main bhi chowkidar hun” and all the BJP leaders followed suit in a counter-campaign against Rahul Gandhi-led Congress party’s “chowkidar chor hain”.

The passenger claimed that tea was served in these cups twice. The advertisement on the cup was by Sankalp Foundation, an NGO.

The IRCTC said the matter has been investigated and a fine of Rs One lakh has been imposed on the service provider.

The Election Commission has sent notices to the Ministry of Railways after photos of tea cups with ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ (‘I’m also watchman’) written on them in Kathgodam Shatabdi went viral. The railway ministry has been asked to file a reply by today itself.

The issue comes days after the Indian Railways was found in violation of the poll code for issuing tickets with PM Narendra Modi’s pictures on them. The railways later called the incident as “unintentional and inadvertent mistake”.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission has also send a second notice to Ministry of Civil Aviation on Madurai Airport matter where PM Narendra Modi’s picture was seen on boarding passes. The civil aviation ministry has also been asked to file a reply by today.

Niti Ayog chief Election Commission (EC) has pulled up Niti Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar for targeting Congress’s minimum income guarantee scheme, NYAY.

Niti Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar has been asked to furnish his reply to an Election Commission notice, issued for his remarks against the Congress over its minimum income guarantee promise, by April 2.

Official sources said Kumar had sought time till April 5 from the Election Commission to respond to the show cause notice as he was abroad.

The poll body, however, Friday decided that he be asked to respond by April 2 evening. Earlier, Kumar was to respond by Thursday evening.

Rajiv Kumar had criticised the Congress’ NYAY income support scheme and accused the Congress of promising “moon to win elections”.

Speaking to India Today TV, Rajiv Kumar said, “This is an idea whose time should not come. Bordering on irresponsible, this is so typical of the Congress. What will happen to the credit rating and debt to GDP ratio. Only for the sake of winning elections, they have made the announcement. This is the worst kind of vote politics.”

Kumar also said this is the worst kind of politics possible. He said, “Rahul Gandhi should be told that he would be doing a great injustice to economic stability with this scheme.”

Later Rajiv Kumar also tweeted, saying “The proposed income guarantee scheme fails the economics test, fiscal discipline test and execution test”.

In another tweet, Kumar wrote, “True to its past record of promising the moon to win elections, Congress President announces a scheme that will bust fiscal discipline, create strong incentives against work and which will never be implemented.”

Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh was seen in a video saying Modi must come back to power and that ‘we are all BJP workers’.

The Election Commission (EC) is learnt to have sought a factual report from the Uttar Pradesh Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) on Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh’s remark that Narendra Modi should be re-elected as the Prime Minister.

The EC is also examining the matter in the light of the only precedent from the early ‘90s when the poll panel, under T N Seshan, had pulled up Gulsher Ahmad, the then Governor of Himachal Pradesh, for campaigning for his son Sayeed Ahmed in Madhya Pradesh. He quit the post when the EC expressed displeasure over the misuse of official machinery for his son’s poll campaign.

Singh had courted controversy this week when he told reporters in Aligarh on March 23 that everyone wants Modi to win and it is necessary for the country.

“Hum sabhi log BJP ke karyakarta hain aur iss naatey se hum zaroor chahengey ke BJP vijai ho. Sab chahengey ek baar phir sey kendra mein Modi-ji Pradhan Mantri banein. Modi-ji ka Pradhan Mantri ban-na ye desh ke liye avashyak hai, samaaj ke liye avashyak hai (We are all BJP workers, so we will want the BJP to win. Everyone will want Modi to become the PM again. Modi becoming the PM is necessary for the nation and society),” he had said.

Singh made the comments in a bid to quell protests by party workers after the BJP, on March 21, announced sitting MP Satish Gautam’s name as candidate from Aligarh again. Gautam went to Singh’s residence on Friday to seek his “blessings”, but he was reportedly not given an appointment.

Facebook pages offering prize for pledging to vote: Alt News reported that Pro-BJP Facebook pages are offering “attractive prizes”, if you pledge to vote for the BJP, raising questions about whether this counts as “quasi-bribery.”

Alt News found that My First Vote For Modi, developed three months before the elections, is luring voters with “attractive goodies” if they pledge to vote for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The range of goodies offered by the page includes badges, bags, T-shirts, phone covers and caps. “Pledge your first vote for PM Modi for the better India and win exciting goodies,” read the ads.

These products are available for sale on Narendra Modi’s official NaMo app and Modi himself advertised some of the same products from his Twitter handle.

The BJP, however, is yet to declare direct links with these pages. This begs the question of who funds them, since the combined investment by both the pages since February 2019 stands at nearly Rs 1.8 crore.

But a matter of bigger concern is the veiled bribing of voters. Both the pages offer “attractive prizes” and “goodies” in the form of NaMo merchandise to anyone pledging to vote for Modi.

“Under the Representation of the People Act, you are not supposed to influence voters with any offers,” said former Chief of Election Commission TS Krishnamurthy. “It must be examined under the Act whether the voters are being influenced by undue influencers.”

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