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Mudda examines Congress accusation of bias at the Election Commission after the prime minister greets crowds after casting vote in second phase of Gujarat elections

Less than 24 hours after the Election Commission issued a show cause notice to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for violating the electoral code of conduct by letting himself be interviewed by a TV channel on the eve of the polls, his party colleague Randeep Surjewala has accused the panel of bias as it has not reacted to what it termed a “road show” by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi conducted when he came to an Ahmedabad booth to cast his ballot on Thursday morning. TV footage showed the PM standing on the footrest of his car interacting with the crowds. Surjewala called EC a “puppet” of the ruling party.

APN’s premier debate show, Mudda, on Thursday examined Surjewala’s contention. Himanshu Dikshit anchored the talks while participants included Chandrabhushan Pandey for the BJP, Manoj Yadav for the SP, Suchee Viswas for the Congress, Prabhat Ranjan for the JD(U), Ameer Haidar Zaidi for the CPI, social worker Naheed Aqeel and journalist Govind Pant Raju.

Pandey said, “If there is any Indian institution we can be proud of it is the EC. It has a proud record of transparency. All these allegations, for example of defective EVMs, indicate that a bad workman always blames his tools.”

Yadav observed that elaborate arrangements for the PM’s visit were made beforehand. “There is evidence of event management. There were more people there than the total votes polled that day. You can find that out from the record of votes cast today. If the PM, himself, breaks the law in this manner, what will the others do?” he said.

Viswas held that the BJP has destroyed the institutions of the country. “Speaking of institutions, the CBI has recently given a clean chit to MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The RBI’s role in the demonetisation debacle is for all to see. So what the prestige of institutions has been reduced to during the BJP’s tenure is also for everyone to behold.  Let the EC hold its inquiry. We are ready to take the consequences,” she boldly said.

Ranjan felt that, being PM, “if Modi greets people after casting his vote, it’s no big deal”.

Zaidi, however, contradicted him. “He has been seeking votes on basis of being son of soil, not development. He has not brought irrigation facilities to the farmers of Gujarat, so they can only grow cotton and groundnut,” he added.

Yadav said the culture of whataboutery had been started by the BJP. “They are the biggest lawbreakers, especially when it comes to elections. We are headed towards another emergency,” he declared.

Aqeel aired her problems with the BJP’s style of campaigning.

“The BJP campaigns in high volume, breaking the decibel limit set by the EC. It’s a small thing. But these add up to bigger problems. For instance, the people have long been waiting to hear meaningful discussions that will bring relief to them amid the terrible struggles they daily undergo. But all campaigning comes down to Pakistan, cow and Muslims, never economics, farmers’ problems or development,” she said.

Raju said that the Congress attack against EC is a weak one. “Also, there are platforms for pointing fingers at the Election Commission. Doing a press conference in the middle of elections and bringing into doubt the entire election process is not the right thing to do. When I met Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his campaign, he honestly told me he could not make promises as that would violate the poll code. I believe what Rahul has done is many times worse than Modi’s misdeeds. Why would he have his interview telecast on Gujarati channels the day before the election?” he said.

Pandey, who was grateful for the support, also hit back, saying, “The Congress has been the greatest enemy of democracy. In the 1970s, they tried to rig the judiciary. We, on the contrary, have been trying to incorporate global best practices in all fields. Hence our PM is popular, unlike the ‘pappu’ Rahul Gandhi. In any case, we can’t descend to the levels that the Congress has gone down to so far. Raju has said it all. I have nothing to add except that this shows how scared the Congress is of defeat.”

Viswas then put up a strong defence, raising the Justice Loya’s mystery death controversy and the government’s inexplicable and uncalled-for deferral of the winter session to one day after the Gujarat elections. “If anyone is afraid of loss, the BJP is. Their false propaganda regarding Ahmed Patel is proof of that. The PM says he is the only son of the soil. Is everyone else an adopted child?” he said.

It is EC which is under a cloud at the end of the day, said Ranjan. This he felt was not good for the health of the democracy. “It’s the BJP and the Congress that have compromised the EC. Let’s stop blaming institutions whenever we lose and introspect instead,” he said.

Yadav, however, felt leaders should lead by example. “If the PM spreads canards against his opponents, many others would do the same as he is their ideal and so his behaviour gives them that moral licence. So the PM should take care to maintain the prestige of his office during political discourse. Also, why is the EC under a cloud? When Syed Zaidi was CEC, so many questions weren’t raised,” he said.

Raju helad that the EC running elections in such a diverse country as ours which sees violence over the smallest of issues successfully till date goes to its credit. “So while we should no doubt probe irregularities, go to court even, we mustn’t lose faith. On the whole, all is well.”

Aqeel raised the issue of malfunctioning electronic voting machines in MP, but he dismissed it as fake news.

Viswas said that improving the political discourse as well as holding a fair election all begins with self-regulation. Dikshit wholeheartedly agreed, adding that it should start at the top and the PM would do well to heed her advice.

Compiled by Sucheta Dasgupta

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