Political storm in a teacup: EC issues notice to Railways over 'Main Bhi Chowkidar' slogan on cups in Shatabdi
The BJP's ‘Main Bhi Chowikdar’ campaign is under fire after passengers of the Kathgodam Shatabdi Express were served tea in paper cups on which the campaign slogan was printed.
Reports say the Election Commission has issued a show cause notice to Indian Railways, but the Railways has denied this
Opposition parties have accused the Election Commission of acting like a 'BJP agent'
Indian Railways has imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh on the advertiser and issued a show cause notice
New Delhi: Amid the full-fledged campaigning underway across India, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's ‘Main Bhi Chowikdar’ propaganda faced flak on social media after passengers of Kathgodam Shatabdi Express 12040, which runs between New Delhi and Kathgodam, were served tea in paper cups on which the campaign slogan was printed.
The incident appears to be a violation of the Model Code of Conduct.
Media reports suggest that taking cognisance of the matter, the Election Commission has issued a fresh show cause notice to Indian Railways over the 'Main Bhi Chowkidar' cups on Saturday evening. Reports say the notice has specifically sought an explanation on the matter and accountability of whoever is responsible for it.
However, Indian Railways sources claimed they had not received any show cause notice from the Election Commission, so far.
Repeated calls to the polling watchdog went answered.
IRCTC to issue advisory
Meanwhile, a source in the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) said the catering wing of Indian Railways will soon issue advisories to various zones regarding these 'Main Bhi Chowkidar' cups to prevent a recurrence of such incidents.
“Every train has one supervisor. So all the trains that run across the length and breadth of the country will be intimated about the advisory,” he added.
IRCTC said on Friday: “The space on cups and other such materials is used for paid publicity by licensees as per the agreement. The licensees are supposed to take permission from IRCTC to print advertisements. However, in this case, no such approval was taken. A fine of Rs 1 lakh has been imposed on the licensee, who has also been served a show cause notice.”
The statement further said they had sought an explanation from the supervisory staff and those in charge of the trains' pantries "for carelessness".
"A few cups were used only today for a very short period. The cups have since been withdrawn," it added.
Political ‘Chai pe Charcha’
Soon after the incident came to light, several parties, including the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Samajwadi Party, criticised the Election Commission.
Uttar Pradesh AAP spokesperson Vaibhav Maheshwari said, “First of all, the Election Commission's guidelines are only for Opposition parties, not for the BJP. Second, after the incident, it is quite evident that the Election Commission is acting like a BJP agent, and in today’s digital era, it took so much time to investigate the whole incident. This shows that the Election Commission deliberately tried to help the BJP."
Calling the incident poll propaganda, senior Samajwadi Party leader Dr Sunilam said, “It’s a clear violation of the Model Code of Conduct. Shatabdi is an executive train. If this type of incident can happen in Shatabdi-like trains, then the Election Commission must come up with a permanent solution to the whole issue.”
He also called for a case to be registered against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, "as he is responsible for creating ruckus nowadays in the entire country”.
NGO says ‘not involved’
The controversial tea cups carried the name of NGO Sankalp Seva Foundation and the logo of another NGO, Utthan Seva Sansthan. The cups also highlighted the BJP's campaign slogans of saving the country from terrorism and respecting soldiers.
Himanshu Mishra of Utthan Seva Sansthan said, “We had not distributed any type of materials, including cups, which carried Modi’s picture with the slogan 'Main Bhi Chowkidar'. As I got to know about the matter yesterday (on Friday), we are looking into it. We have got nothing to do with the BJP.”
Requesting anonymity, a passenger who travels by train regularly said, “If this incident can happen in a train like Shatabdi, then the Election Commission must keep a watch on other trains, too. As this was the Shatabdi Express, the incident came to light.”
Violation of Railways General Conditions of Contract
Bhopal-based Railways expert and senior journalist Pravesh Gautam said advertisements within the ambit of the Railways must always be approved before display.
"Usually, the licensee or contractor does not take this approval for advertisements. The incident on the Kathgodam Shatabdi Express is a serious violation of the Railways' guidelines and General Conditions Contract."
“Here, the Railways should have imposed a heavy penalty, say 10% of the contract value or reserve price," he added. "Imposing penalty of Rs 1 lakh is merely a formality, as the contractor already benefitted from the advertiser for this ad, and this is a common practice in the Railways."
The author is a New Delhi-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters
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