On 10 March, the 2019 Lok Sabha election schedule was announced, thus bringing into force the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). 10 March was also the day that a BJP party member was seen distributing NaMo merchandise in Ward 66 of the Prime Minister’s own constituency Varanasi.
Satish Agrawal, the BJP Area Coordinator for Ward 66, had no qualms owning up to it either. “Yes, the clocks were distributed from the afternoon to the evening on Sunday,” he said, simply, matter-of-factly.
The MCC, which are a set of guidelines enforced by the Election Commission (EC) to ensure free and fair elections, contains eight provisions for general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day, polling booths, observers, the party in power, and election manifestos. Under the area of general conduct, political parties are not allowed to bribe voters. The party in power is bound by more rules to ensure they cannot take advantage of their position – which means no new projects, schemes or policies can be announced by the government, campaigns cannot be done at the cost of the public exchequer, and official mass media cannot be used.
According to Agrawal however, this was not a violation of the MCC. “The clocks have been distributed to workers, the ones who have been working with the party for a while now, as a form of gratitude, that’s all,” he explained, and despite it coming across as a semi-comical statement given the prominence of Narendra Modi’s face splashed across the merchandise, he added vehemently, “It is obviously not a form of publicity.”
It has been apparent that the BJP-led NDA government has been racing against the EC’s clock. In the last month, 100 decisions have been made at the meetings of the Union Cabinet and the Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs, affecting everyone from farmers to ex-servicemen. Schemes like the PM Shram Yogi Mandhan Pension have been launched. The Prime Minister has travelled extensively domestically, attending rallies and laying foundation stones for massive projects.
When asked what made the clocks special, Agrawal’s response was prompt, even rapt, “They are Modi ji’s clocks. Some have a central dial with a picture of Modi, around which were some of the schemes he has launched, like the Ujwala yojna, and there is the one with the Rs 5 lakh medical insurance cover. There were some in the shape of ‘Modi’ lettering and some with his picture on it.”
Party worker Janu Sonkar in Ward 66, Saraiyya, who was a recipient of said clock, helpfully provided us with the cost-estimates, “The clocks would have cost Rs 15,000-20,000.” “But you must notice the hard work of the maker,” he added.
Anurudin Saha, another party worker in Ward 66, Saraiyya, who was gifted the clock, told us, “He (Agrawal) didn’t say much about why he was distributing the clocks. Just that he was satisfied with my work, and that this was a gift from the party to the workers so that we’d work with even more diligence. Dil se (With all our hearts).” Saha insisted, toeing the same line as Agrawal when asked about MCC, “It’s not publicity.” Saha’s scope of work as a party worker involves promotion, “For example, if there is a program happening at home, or if big officials are visiting and they need someone to take care of their needs, or if they need someone to put banners on the roads. That’s what I help in.”
Snen Haider, another clock recipient, was happy with the gift, “What is special about it for me is that ‘Modi’ is written on it.” He wondered about the timing though, “I only got it now, just before the elections.” The effect of the ‘gift’ is apparent in interactions with all the ‘gifted’ party workers. Said Haider, “We’ve been working for the BJP, and will now continue to do so with more rigour.” Another worker, Gyancharan, who seemed largely unclear about who gave him the clock and why, spoke about the general mood, “We might go [vote] for those who've given us this, yes.”
By our reporter’s estimate, 40 clocks had been distributed on Sunday, 10 March. But former legislator and current Congress member Ajay Rai claimed that several more trucks laden with clocks have come into Varanasi. At DM Rajesh Kumar Shrivastav’s office, with a group of complainants, all there to discuss the BJP’s violation of the MCC, we had a ringside view of Rai and others displaying ‘seized’ NaMo clocks, even as they flashed their phone-screens showing the posts on various social media platforms of people posing with it. Anger evident in their tones, they claimed it “as a flagrant disregard for the MCC”. Rai, making sure that the journalists were recording, camera lights flashing in his face, retorted, “The Model Code of Conduct ki dhajjiyan uda rahe hain."
When asked if his own actions were a publicity stunt, Rai said, “If I was distributing something – clocks, clothes, saris, briefcases – that would be a violation of the Model Code of Conduct. But that is not the case.” His entourage was quick to jump to his defence too, insisting that those present were mostly lawyers, and had come at their own behest. Rai added, “We haven’t brought a crowd, it’s just us. If the public unites against someone’s, the Prime Minister’s, wrongdoing, then it is not a crowd, it is just a sign that he is going to come crashing down.” With the crowd around him echoing his words, he delivered his final comment, “Mahadev ko mukt karne aaye the, khud mukt hone wale hai. (We had come to set the lord free, but he is ensuring his freedom himself).”
Khabar Lahariya is a women-only network of rural reporters from Bundelkhand.
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Updated Date: Mar 20, 2019 18:01:53 IST