Arvind Kejriwal brings a distinct flavour to political speeches. He does not beat around the bush and pulls no punches while going at political rivals. He raises uncomfortable points with ease and for most part what he says appear from the heart. He crosses that red line far too often; unusual for a politician. But then, this is what endears him to his audience. Take the blunt-speak out, he is nothing.
Then whenever was there an election speech without attack on opponents? From allegation of corruption to character assassination to charges of electoral malpractice – political leaders resort to all while trying to show competitors as inferior. It may not qualify as fair play but that is how election campaigning goes in the country. Red lines are rarely respected. So why blame the AAP founder alone?
Thus the Election Commission’s censure of Kejriwal for his speech in Goa is a bit harsh. Addressing a rally at Benaulim, he had asked the voters not to refuse the money if offered by the BJP or the Congress, but they should cast their ballot in favour of the Aam Aadmi Party. Given the depths to which the discourse dips during electoral campaigns this should be considered pretty innocuous. However, the commission found him violating the election Model Code of Conduct. It held that the speech amounted to promoting bribery, an electoral offence.
The commission in its order added: "…You may also note that in case of similar violation of MCC in future, the Commission shall take stern action against you and your party, using all powers available to it including action under Para 16A of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968." Kejriwal has said he would challenge the order in court.
Notwithstanding what the court decides the fact remains that it is practically difficult to ensure that all election speeches remain in the limits of decorum. Unless a speech is too divisive or too vulgar or too inflammatory it should be allowed. The Supreme Court’s recent decision forbidding candidates to seek votes in the name of religion, caste, creed and community is problematic for the similar reason. Seasoned leaders rarely make direct references to these in their public utterances. But their affinity to specific social groups is hardly unknown.
The Election Commission’s move is likely to take the character out of Kejriwal’s speeches and render them bland. Nobody needs to shed tears for him, but for the sake of fairness the utterances of all other leaders must be strictly monitored too. The model code of conduct must not be a barrier to free speech. There’s a gap between free speech and loose talk. Both are acceptable, but when loose talk becomes potentially dangerous to people, not necessarily to political players, it should be a matter of concern. The commission needs to assert itself here. Kejriwal’s statement on bribes does not come in the category of dangerous.
Kejriwal’s attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi following the commission’s order is a bit confounding though. He asked whether the election authority was taking orders from the prime minister’s office. In an interview with The Times of India, he accused the former of waiting for Modi’s speech in Lucknow to announce dates for elections. He questioned the independence of the commission and alleged that all institutions were under threat from the current government.
Knowing his penchant for attacking Modi even on the slightest of pretexts, this fulmination does not surprise. He has done it so many times so far that it appears more compulsive obsessive disorder than serious business. It could be unfair on the prime minister but then Kejriwal gets his share of brickbats too, particularly from the former’s party. His attacks being political in nature should be left to the BJP to handle in the political way. If the party choses the legal option, like it has done earlier, it can go for it too.
Updated Date: Jan 23, 2017 16:57:35 IST