Gujarat polls 2017: EC notice to Rahul Gandhi after BJP files complaint under MCC; FIR against TV channels

Acting on a complaint by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Election Commission on Wednesday issued a notice to Rahul Gandhi for violating the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) by giving an interview to TV channels even after the campaign for Gujarat polls had formally ended. The Election Commission said, "Explain why action should not be taken against you for violating provisions of MCC, failing which the commission will decide the matter without any further reference to you." Rahul is supposed to file his reply before 5 pm on 18 December.

The poll panel has also filed an FIR against Gujarati channels for airing the interview after the end of election campaign. The poll panel has also banned media channels from airing any videos of the interview. Congress spokesperson said a Congress delegation led by Ashok Gehlot will be at ECI at 9.15 to discuss the issue.

Earlier in the day, the Gujarat BJP unit's legal cell wrote to Election Commission alleging that Rahul's interview given to a few regional channels was in violation of the Model Code of Conduct. The Election Commission norms place a bar on calling for votes after the end of the campaigning phase. The saffron party, which complained against the Congress for the second time, also pointed out that the MCC was already in place at the time the interview was aired, News 18 reported.

The poll body in its two-page order on Wednesday night also said it will decide the matter without any reference to him if he fails to respond to the notice.

In a press statement earlier, the EC said it has asked TV channels to "forthwith stop" airing interviews of Rahul Gandhi as they violated the election law and directed the Gujarat poll authorities to lodge FIRs against anyone for infringement of legal provisions.

It said Rahul Gandhi talked about the Gujarat Assembly elections in which the polling for the second phase will be held on Thursday.

The notice said display of his interview by channels falls within the definition of ”election matter” under Section 126 (3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and display of such election matter within 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for conclusion of poll, amounts to violation of the prohibition contained in Section 126 (1) (b) of the Act, 1951.

Earlier on Wednesday, BJP leader and Union minister Piyush Goyal addressed a press conference slamming Rahul for the alleged violation of the MCC. Goyal said that the Congress party was insecure about its performance in the election and hence are resorting to such measures. He said that after watching Rahul's interview he realised that the Congress is not even sure about how they are going to implement reservation to Patidars, which is one of their election promises.

"We've learnt from EC too that 48 hours in the run-up to polls, interviews can't be given. Is Congress so insecure? Only Rahul Gandhi can answer," Goyal said. The Union minister also launched a fresh offensive against the Congress, raking up the coal scam. Referring to former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda's conviction in coal scam, Goyal said Congress leaders laundered money to fill up their own coffers. He said the Congress opposed demonetisation because the corrupt people of the party were in trouble. "The Opposition party should criticise itself before criticising others," Goyal said.

Meanwhile, the Congress party rebuffed the allegations of MCC violation and criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "panicked attempts" to "threaten people in the name of Election Commission."

"The BJP is blatantly using Election Commission of India as a tool for its political gains, which demeans the independent institution," Surjewala said at a hurriedly convened press conference. The party also said that the BJP was making an issue out of non-issues as a distraction tactic.

Surjewala also accused BJP of "threatening journalist" out of its "Rahul Gandhi phobia." Surjewala said that Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani was trying to suppress local media for reporting on the Congress party. He said that the news channels which aired the Rahul interview were "receiving angry phone calls" fro the Prime Minister's Office.

"When Congress president-elect Rahul Gandhi gave interviews to a few Gujarati news channels, BJP in the name of Election Commission, threatened to jail the journalists of those channels for broadcasting it. We condemn this arrogant behaviour of BJP," Surjewala said.

 Gujarat polls 2017: EC notice to Rahul Gandhi after BJP files complaint under MCC; FIR against TV channels

File image of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

However, as the poll season is at its pinnacle, these are not the only accusations of MCC violation floating around.

To counter BJP's claims, the Congress also said that the BJP manifesto, which was released just a day before the first phase election on 8 December, was also a blatant violation of the MCC. Surjewala also said that Modi too gave an interview ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha election, and if Rahul's interview is being touted as MCC violation then Election Commission should slap a notice on the prime minister as well.

The Congress party, on its official website had likewise accused Modi of violating the MCC.

"Exhibiting scant regard for an institution like the Election Commission of India (EC) and its well-established rules and regulations, Modi violated the Model Code of Conduct on Friday. The violation took place in Gujarat, where Modi did a direct vote appeal even though the deadline for campaigning for the first phase was over," an article on the Congress website read.

The poll panel has also issued notice to a BJP MLA after a viral video showed him boasting about his disregard for the MCC. A video of Bhushan Bhatt, the son of late BJP leader and Gujarat Assembly Speaker Ashok Bhatt, showed him exhorting a group of BJP workers to not hold themselves back because of the MCC. He also boasts that he himself does not give a "damn" about the poll code. The video in question could not be verified by Firstpost independently.

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Updated Date: Dec 14, 2017 06:56:06 IST