Gujarat Assembly Election 2017: Allegations of poll code violations galore as state votes in final phase

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity in Gujarat and the much-touted state's model of development will be pitted against Rahul Gandhi's call for change on Thursday as the state will vote in the second and final phase of election.

Campaigning for high-stake Gujarat Assembly election concluded on Tuesday, however, there is no end to controversies, attacks and counter-attacks which are freely being thrown about between the two major parties in the fray.

Rahul's interview to Gujarati channels

While acrimonious exchanges ruled the entire poll campaign, things got heated up on Wednesday after the Election Commission issued a show cause notice to Congress president-elect Rahul Gandhi for "prima facie" violating the provisions of the election law and the model code by giving interviews to TV channels in Gujarat.

It asked Gandhi to respond to the notice latest by 18 December evening, failing which it will decide the matter without any reference to him. The counting of votes is also scheduled on that day. The notice said the display of his interviews by TV channels fell within the definition of "election matter" under Section 126 (3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and their telecast within 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the conclusion of the poll amounted to violation of Section 126 (1) (b) of the Act.

"...By giving such interview and its display on TV channels on December 13, you have, prima facie, violated the...provisions of para 1 (4) of the Model Code of Conduct, Section 126 (1) (b) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and the Election Commission's lawful instructions in this regard," it said.

The BJP had complained the Commission about the interviews.

Election Commission's notice started an ugly political war on Wednesday evening with the Congress demanding that the poll panel should then issue notices against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah and Union ministers Arun Jaitley and Piyush Goyal for violating the code of conduct.

Rahul's interview became the latest flashpoint between the BJP and the Congress, with the latter accusing Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and Union minister Piyush Goyal of "threatening" journalists in the name of the poll code.

Congress spokesperson and communications department in-charge Randeep Surjewala, who led a party delegation to the EC office, said the same rule should apply to Modi, Jaitley and Shah as well. "Why didn't the EC do anything when the FICCI chairman made a pro-Modi speech today? Action should also be taken against the PM for holding the Mann ki Baat radio programme during elections."

"If Arun Jaitley can release the BJP vision document a day before Phase 1 voting, should he not be booked for model code of violation? If Amit Shah can make poll-related statements in Ahmedabad, should be not be booked? We appealed to the EC to not show double-standard in applying rules," Surjewala told reporters outside the EC office.

Surjewala also alleged that the move was meant to suppress the voice of the media. "In 2014 elections, Modi ji even showed the BJP symbol on voting day but EC didn't act. BJP held a press conference just before the first phase of the Gujarat election. These double standards won't work and the first FIR should be filed against PM Modi and other BJP leaders, instead of the press," ANI quoted him as saying.

Modi's speech at FICCI

While speaking at the inauguration of 90th FICCI Annual General Meeting on Wednesday, Modi merely stopped short of naming Congress and also Gujarat thus keeping it within the permissible limits of the Model Code of Conduct but taking to his political opponents to task.

A file image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

A file image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

The Model Code of Conduct states: "Criticism of other political parties, when made, shall be confined to their policies and programme, past record and work" and "All parties and candidates shall avoid scrupulously all activities which are "corrupt practices" and offences under the election law, such as bribing of voters,
intimidation of voters, impersonation of voters, canvassing within 100 meters of polling stations, holding public meetings during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the close of the poll, and the transport and conveyance of voters to and from polling station."

While carefully avoiding words that might lead to a violation of the poll conduct, and more importantly, offer the Congress fodder to launch an attack, the prime minister tore into the policies and the alleged scams that took place during the UPA regime. Moreover, he spoke as a chief guest at an event and not at a political rally.

"These Non Performing Assets of the national banks was a much bigger scam than the Commonwealth games, coal gate, 2G scams. This was, in a way, an open loot of the public money, by those sitting in the government through the help of industrialists and businessmen. Did any agency attempt to wake up those who were watching this scam silently?" Modi asked.

Although the prime minister's speech was to an industry body, he smartly packaged it with the achievements of his government, faults of the previous government at the Centre while delivering an underlying message to those who are eligible to use the electronic voting machines (EVMs) on Thursday in Gujarat.

Remaining within the ambit of the neat conduct mandate, Modi sought to showcase how his government made life easier for the underprivileged class.

"We had a system where the poor always to fight for their rights. They had to fight for little things. When the poor wanted to open a bank account or wanted a gas connection, the system became an obstacle. They had to pay commission to get their own pensions and scholarships," the prime minister said.

Modi's 'roadshow' in Ahmedabad

On Thursday, the Congress called a presser while polling in various districts was going on and alleged that Modi violated poll code with his "roadshow" at Ranip in Ahmedabad where the prime minister cast his vote.

Speaking to the press, Surjewala alleged that the Election Commission of India is turning a blind eye to the "poll code violations" committed by the BJP. "The Election Commission is working under pressure from the BJP. It is not working independently of the executive," Surjewala said.

The Congress also claimed that the Election Commission is running away from its constitutional responsibility, adding that the BJP is using EC as a "puppet" to win Gujarat. "Under Modi era, EC has become the puppet of the BJP. The Election Commissioner has compromised on his integrity. A meek EC is prostrating to the Modi government," the Congress leader alleged.

On Thursday, after casting his vote, Modi walked amid his supporters near the polling booth but he did not address any gathering.

158 complaints on violating code of conduct registered with State Election Committee

According to a report in The Indian Express, at least 158 complaints of violation of the Model Code of Conduct are registered with the State Election Commission. However, inquiries by election officials in the state have not resulted in any perceptible action yet, except notices being issued to the "accused violators".

A file image of Congress president-elect Rahul Gandhi. PTI

A file image of Congress president-elect Rahul Gandhi. PTI

The archbishop's 'malafide' letter

In November, the Gujarat Election Commission sent a notice to the Archbishop of Gujarat's Gandhinagar seeking an explanation for his letter that urged the Christian community to vote for those "open to secularism". The notice further enquired why Thomas Macwan's letter should not be interpreted as a violation of the model code of conduct.

Macwan, in his letter, wrote,"Nationalist forces are on the verge of taking over the country. The elections of Gujarat State Assembly can make a difference!" His letter expressed concern over the "growing insecurity among the minorities, OBCs, BCs, poor and so on." Though no political parties were mentioned in the letter, it explicitly talked about attacks on "our churches, church personnel, faithful or institutions."

"The secular and democratic fabric of our country is at stake. Human rights are being violated. The constitutional rights are being trampled. Not a single day goes without an attack on our churches, faithful or institutions," he wrote.

Macwan's letter was widely construed as anti-BJP, the ruling party in Gujarat. Macwan had also said that the elections are "significant for the future course of our country". "The recitation of the Holy Rosary at individual, community, family and parish levels will be of great help. Encourage your faithful to pray the Rosary," he said.

In the letter, the Archbishop had also cited examples of how such prayers saved Europe during the victory at Lepanto (referring to the battle of 1571 in which Holy League of Venetian and Spanish empires defeated Ottoman Empire in the Gulf of Patras), and how "protecting hand of our beloved Mother Mary defeated communist governments and dictators in a number of countries".

The archbishop clarified to the EC that he had no "mala fide intention" against any party.

Don't care about Election Commission, says BJP's Bhushan Bhatt

A BJP candidate in Gujarat, who was caught on camera assuring voters to pay petrol expenses for them, was issued a show-cause notice by the Election Commission. Bhushan Bhatt, son of Gujarat assembly speaker Ashok Bhatt, in a video clip was heard telling voters that they will be paid the petrol expenses for their two-wheelers for attending the rally held by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Sabarmati last week.

The clip also showed Bhatt telling his party workers "do not care about the poll panel." "Our PM's rally is at Sabarmati Riverfront. Before that, arrange a rally of 4,000 to 5,000 two-wheelers here (Khadia) and then come to that venue. I am telling you again, just don't worry about the EC. I don't care about the EC. Let them do whatever they want to," Bhatt is purportedly heard telling his supporters in the video.

The clip was widely circulated in Gujarat. Bhatt is contesting from Jamalpur-Khadia. Under the code of conduct any kind of payments to voters in any form - cash or kind - is banned that is put in place ahead of elections.

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Updated Date: Dec 14, 2017 15:08:41 IST

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