The Congress wants Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stop airing his Mann Ki Baat address, until the Bihar Assembly election concludes on 8 November. In fact, the party wishes to flag this as a serious issue of violation of the model code of conduct, and is petitioning the Election Commission to issue necessary directions to the relevant authorities.
An RJD leader said that “it was the Congress’ decision to plead before the Commission for the stoppage of Mann Ki Baat. Although we are not, at least as of now, going to the EC as part of a delegation with them, as alliance Mahagathbandhan partners, we endorse whatever they are doing.” The other ally in this secularist grand coalition, the JD(U) is likely to join Congress leaders when they go meet the Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi on the issue on this hypothetical model code of conduct violation issue.
It's clear that the EC is unlikely to respond positively to the Congress’ wishes. The poll panel has on numerous occasions clarified that the model code of conduct does not restrict day-to-day functioning of the government or stop an ongoing program. It only prohibits the announcement of policies and promises that could influence the minds of voters in the poll-bound state.
As of now, Modi is expected to air the next edition of his Mann Ki Baat on Sunday (20 September), but there is no official confirmation regarding this so far.
By deciding to petition the EC on Mann Ki Baat, the Congress may have unwittingly acknowledged that Modi’s direct engagement with citizens over the radio has actually become popular, and thus has the potential to swing votes in his favour. It has also given an issue to the BJP with which to mount a counter-offensive against the Congress.
After all, Modi’s Mann Ki Baat — and the way it has progressed in the past year — is not about offering poll sops but engaging with people at large on issues that confront society. The purpose of the radio address is also talk to talk about people and issues that can be inspirational — whether that be the 'selfie with daughter', Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Jan Dhan Yojana, energy conservation and so on.
In the last edition of Mann Ki Baat (broadcast on 30 August), Modi did talk about a policy decision — not to re-promulgate the Land Acquisition ordinance, and to integrate 15 other categories of Central laws with the prevailing law on land acquisition. But that was hardly an issue that could have come under the domain of EC scrutiny even if the model code of conduct was in place. Moreover, the Congress had been quick to claim it as a victory of the party vice-president Rahul Gandhi and is planning to hold a victory rally in Delhi.
BJP national secretary Srikant Sharma called the move a case of “Khisyani billi khambha noche (A slow cat that can't catch mice, ends up scratching pillars). The Congress is desperate to find an issue, not realising that this will become a joke at its own expense.”
The point is that Modi or any other leader could always talk about the issues raised as part of Mann Ki Baat in public rallies while campaigning in Bihar. Mann Ki Baat, on the other hand, is not about an election, it’s about the nation and societal change.
During the parliamentary election held last year, the Congress had hurriedly petitioned the EC to prevent Modi from turning his nomination-filing in Banaras into a public campaign event, on a day when polling was in progress in some other parts of the country. The EC had then dismissed the Congress’ petition, and is likely to do the same this time.
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Updated Date: Sep 18, 2015 22:46:32 IST