The Election Commission appears helpless and powerless in the face of open defiance by top leaders across the political spectrum who are vying with one another in violating the poll code of conduct with impunity. The present situation is a far cry from the days when T N Seshan was at the helm of the poll panel. By fearlessly asserting the powers of the EC, he could effectively rein in the errant politicians and enforce the code of conduct in true spirit. However, over years, the writ of the poll panel has been weakening while campaigning standards have been rapidly declining. In the ongoing electioneering, the recent spate of statements by leaders, ranging from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress president Rahul Gandhi to Union Minister Maneka Gandhi and Bahujan Samajwadi Party supremo Mayawati, have clearly crossed the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ and come under the scanner for violating the code of conduct. However, in most of the cases, the leaders have been let off with a mild warning by the EC. It is unfortunate that some of the senior leaders are openly pandering to communal sentiments and seeking votes in the name of religion in flagrant violation of the code of conduct. Showing scant respect for the constitutional bodies, Mayawati has refused to apologise for her open appeal to Muslims to vote en bloc for SP-BSP combine and not to waste their vote on Congress. Her open defiance, instead of replying to the notice sent by the poll panel, has further vitiated the atmosphere.
All major parties are guilty of raking up communal passions to polarise the voters. The Union Minister Maneka Gandhi has set off a political storm when a video clip went viral on social media, showing her telling Muslims that if they did not vote for her, she might not be responsive to their grievances later. Her party colleague Yogi Adityanath has been more rabid and provocative of all, with his “Ali versus Bajrangbali” remark and his description of the Indian Army as “Modi’s Sena. This marked a new low in political discourse at a time when there is a greater need to keep the armed forces and scientific community away from politics and to desist from using their professional achievements for electoral mileage. It is deplorable that Modi has been invoking Balakot air strikes during his election rallies to highlight his government’s muscular foreign policy. Of particular concern was his recent speech, exhorting the first-time voters to dedicate their ballot to those who died in the Pulwama terrorist attack and those who took part in the Balakot offensive against Pakistan. Such speeches clearly violate the EC’s recent advisory to desist from referring to defence matters for political campaigning and propaganda.