Defying the direction of the Election Commission, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a joint interview to DD News and Rajya Sabha TV tried to justify his using of defence forces in the election campaign. He asked: “In a country where thousands of its soldiers have been martyred, shouldn’t that be an election issue? If farmers die, then it is an election issue, but when soldiers die, then it is not an election issue?”
The Election Commission of India on March 9 reiterating its instructions issued in 2013 advised political parties to keep the country’s defence personnel out of election campaigning and not to use their photographs in advertisements. On April 9, at a rally in Maharashtra’s Latur city, Modi urged first-time voters to dedicate their votes to the defence forces in the wake of the Pulwama attack and Balakot air strikes.
After the Supreme Court sharply expressed its displeasure for not taking action against politicians violating election code, the Election Commission imposed a nationwide campaign ban on Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for 72 hours and on BJP Minister Maneka Gandhi and BSP chief Mayawati for 48 hours for their “provocative” communal remarks, which it said had the “propensity to polarise the elections”.
The Supreme Court on April 15 expressed its displeasure over the EC for not taking quick action against politicians for communal and hate speeches during their campaigning and decided to examine the ambit of its power following submission that it was “toothless”. However, the Supreme Court on April 16 expressed satisfaction over the swift action taken by it against these politicians.
Along with Adityanath, Mayawati, Maneka Gandhi and Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi was also served notice by the EC for his campaigning chowkidar chor hai (the watchman is thief) though he has not named anyone.
When Modi initiated a campaign portraying himself and his colleagues as chowkidars, it gives an impression to the public that his predecessors were colluding with the thieves. Why will the opposition not take a dig at the chowkidars when the Supreme Court agreed to review the Rafale fighter jet deal? The dichotomy between chowkidar and chor is well understandable in the circumstances of more and more new information emanating from the newsrooms on Rafale deal. The decision of the EC banning the Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee’s ‘chowkidar chor hai’ poll campaign is not convincing for many electoral observers.
If Maneka Gandhi directly has threatened Muslims of dire consequences if they do not vote for her, Pragya Thakur, who is facing trial for the Malegaon blast case and is now a candidate of BJP for the Bhopal constituency, proudly claims that she helped in demolishing the Babri mosque by climbing on its dome. Thakur’s brazen remark on slain former Mumbai Anti-Terror Squad chief Hemant Karkare, who handled the Malegaon blast case and was killed in the 26/11 attacks, is shocking though she later withdrew her remark after her party distanced from her stance on this matter. She had said Karkare was killed because of her curse on him.
Thakur, surrounded by her party leaders, at a press conference on April 19 described Karkare as anti-national and dharamavirudh (anti-religion). Though the BJP now says Karkare is a martyr, yet he is a lesser martyr than those armed personnel killed in Kashmir or on the Indo-Pakistan frontier. Modi himself has defended his party’s decision to give Thakur a ticket. Citing Samjhauta Express verdict, Modi expressed his confidence that she would come out innocent in the Malegaon blast case.
Three Maoists and a CRPF jawan were killed in an encounter in Jharkhand’s Giridih district on April 15, the day when Modi raised the question in his DD and AIR interview on why martyrdom of soldiers could not be an election issue. One of the martyred, CRPF jawan Biswajit Chauhan (24), hailed from Puthimari Gaon of Kolaigaon in Udalguri district of Assam. His family and the villagers were enraged when no minister, MLA and politician from the ruling BJP visited them.
Similarly, killings of 18 armed forces personnel on June 4, 2018, in Manipur’s Chandel district in an ambush by the NSCN (K) on an army convoy was not highlighted in any preceding elections. It seems that everything — be it sacrifices of our soldiers, Namami Gange or the Statue of Unity — that promotes the Hindutva ideology of the Sangh Parivar is used for electoral advantages by the ruling party at the Centre.
Notwithstanding the apex court’s satisfaction after the court’s warning on the role of EC in taking action against politicians violating election code, more and more complaints of code violations by the ruling as well as opposition parties are coming to the fore. And the EC has largely remained a helpless spectator.
Now the reasonable people are missing TN Seshan, who as the Chief Election Commissioner had elevated the institution by his courageous actions. However, the situation now is difficult as the ruling party with its brute majority and resource mobilisation has dwarfed the opposition’s strength. The situation is even more complicated when the role of the Prime Minister himself is under EC’s scanner with regard to adherence to the electoral code of conduct.
(The author is a senior journalist from Assam)