There are a couple of days left for Election Commission to decide all the pending complaints of violation of Model Code of Conduct by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.
A significant complaint among the lot – most of which are about seeking votes for actions of armed forces – is one relating to a kind of charge that had led to former prime minister Indira Gandhi’s 1971 election being declared null and void and her disqualification from holding elected office for six years.
This is about misuse of official machinery by the Prime Minister for electoral purposes, reported first by a news portal after which Sitaram Yechury, General Secretary of Communist Party of India (Marxist) complained to Sunil Arora, Chief Election Commissioner, Election Commission of India last Wednesday (May 1).
Yechury wrote: “Across the country, there is a growing concern about the manner in which the Election Commission of India is dealing with the complaints regarding the gross violation of the Model Code of Conduct by Shri Narendra Modi.”
Citing a news article in Scroll.in, Yechury said, “Now a web magazine has published an article showing the manner in which government infrastructure and machinery has been brazenly used by the Prime Minister’s Office for securing information from various ministries, as well as, concerned state and district administration to provide inputs for preparing his election speeches.”
Former prime minister Indira Gandhi had been disqualified for violation “of far less import than … those committed by Shri Narendra Modi,” Yechury added, mentioning an article by another web magazine.
Expressing unhappiness with EC approach in dealing with complaints against PM, Yechury said: “…the question is, is Shri Narendra Modi, a BJP candidate from Varanasi constituency in Uttar Pradesh and a star campaigner for the BJP, is needed to be treated differently from the enforcement of MCC for the simple reason that he happens to be the incumbent Prime Minister? We are constrained to raise this question because of want of appropriate response from the Commission in the past, which is adequately empowered by the Constitution to deal with this in a firm and decisive manner.”
The Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct, which has been in place since March 10, states that “ministers shall not combine their official visit with electioneering work and shall not also make use of official machinery or personnel during the electioneering work.”
The report on news portal Scroll was about an email message showing that the government’s NITI Aayog think tank asked bureaucrats in Union territories and at least one BJP-ruled state to send the Prime Minister’s Office inputs on local area knowledge ahead of the leader’s visits to these places.
If confirmed, this would mean that PM Modi has violated not just the model code of conduct (MCC) – but also the same law under which former prime minister Indira Gandhi was convicted. That conviction, in June of 1975, led the Allahabad high court to debar her from parliament, and precipitated her declaration of a state of Emergency.
The email obtained by Scroll.in appears to be from Pinky Kapoor, the NITI Aayog’s economic officer (coordination of states), addressed to bureaucrats, including some chief secretaries, in the Union Territories. On April 8, she allegedly wrote:
“Hon’ble Prime Minister is likely to visit UTs very shortly. The Prime Minister’s Office has desired a write-up on the following by 2.00 Pm tomorrow evening i.e. 09.04.2019 on the following:
Highlights and important features of UTs – Historical, local heroes, Culture, Religious, Economic (including details like major crops, industry, etc.).
II Profile of UTs with special reference to Tourism, Agriculture and employment/ livelihood
It is requested to kindly provide positively the requisite information/ write-up / materials positively by 2.00 pm tomorrow i.e. 09.04.2019 at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Scroll.in claims to have also seen evidence of a similar request to a collector in BJP-ruled Maharashtra. Shortly before prime minister Modi addressed rallies in the state – in Wardha, Gondia and Latur – the collector of Gondia district, KadambariBalkawade, had sent a note to the NITI Aayog profiling the district. The subject line of the email was: “Write up/information for Gondia District for Prime Minister’s Office”.
Indira Gandhi’s case:
In the general election of 1971, Indira Gandhi’s Congress had won by a historic landslide. Indira won her seat from Rae Bareli, defeating the socialist candidate Raj Narain, who then took her to court for violating the Representation of the People Act.
At issue was section 123(7)(a) of the Act, which deems it a “corrupt practice” for a candidate or their agent – or anyone acting with the candidate’s consent – to obtain any assistance from gazetted officers “in furtherance of the prospects of that candidate’s election”.
It was alleged that Indira Gandhi had appointed a government official, Yashpal Kapoor, as her campaign organiser. It was also alleged that local officials and police had been directed to arrange her campaign meetings.
Kapoor had put in his resignation from the prime minister’s secretariat. The question before the Allahabad high court was whether his resignation had been formalised before his work on her personal campaign began.
On June 12, 1975, the Allahabad high court found the prime minister guilty under section 123(7)(a) of the Act, and “disqualified her for a period of six years” from holding elected office – and thus, from being prime minister.
Indira appealed. Yet, the opposition protests and outcry for her resignation drove her to declare the Emergency two weeks later, on June 25.
In PM Modi’s case, the alleged violation took place between end-March and early April, with some gazetted officers asked to assist the ruling party’s campaign just two days before voting began.