Friday, May 02, 2014

How BJP Duped EC With White Lotus, Varanasi On Polling?

By M H Ahssan | INNLIVE

EYE OPENER When the Election Commission finally filed an FIR against Narendra Modi on 30 April for waving a white lotus around while addressing a press conference, it wasn't like the BJP, its prime ministerial candidate and pretty much every party hadn't already been making the most of loopholes in its model code of conduct. 

The case that was finally lodged against Modi was under sections 126- 1(a) 126- 1(b) of the Representatives of People's Act for holding up the party symbol while addressing a press conference. He now faces a maximum punishment of up to 2 years in jail or could be let off with a rap on the knuckles and a fine. 
While no one expects that Modi will be sent to jail, it isn't like the BJP's prime ministerial candidate and his party haven't made the most of the fact that elections are being held in widely spaced phases across the country. In fact, each election day over the past month has witnessed a major Modi PR event aimed at dominating news coverage.

On the first day of polling, 7 April, the BJP went ahead with a press conference to release its manifesto. It was the same day that Assam and Tripura went to the polls.  Despite the Congress protests, the event was telecast live across television channels. On 9 April, when states like Mizoram, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh went to the polls, the BJP prime ministerial candidate filed his nomination in Vadodara after a massive road show in his home state. 

He did make other headlines the next day when it was revealed that he had acknowleged Jashodaben as his wife for the first time ever in a poll affidavit. It's unlikely though that it was a headline that Modi or the BJP would have really wanted, given the fallout. On 17 April, when all of Rajasthan, Karnataka, and parts of Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh went to the polls, the headlines were dominated by a interview that Modi had given to a news agency a day earlier. 

And then on 24 April when parts of  Maharashtra, including Mumbai, West Bengal, all of Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh and Assam went to the polls, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate held a massive road show in Varanasi and filed his nomination. The entire roadshow was telecast live by national television channels even as parts of Uttar Pradesh voted. 

The Congress has been a slouch when it comes to the battle of making headlines on days of polling but they haven't been entirely out of the game either. On 7 April, Rahul Gandhi made his first reference to the snoopgate scandal surrounding Modi and on 24 April he gave an interview to the Hindu that was published on the day Tamil Nadu went to the polls. Sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also helped with a criticism of Modi's handling of the snooping scandal a day earlier. 

Modi has characteristically defended his actions after voting on 30 April by saying that he didn't point a gun at people but merely showed them a lotus. "I will never forget April 30. One can understand if someone points (threatens with) a knife, a pistol or a gun (and FIR is registered). But do you know why a FIR was registered against me? Because I showed a lotus to the people," he said at a campaign rally. 

But as INNLIVE pointed out, parties are now familiar with the Election Commission's working and how to go around it. Parties are, for example, are making strategic leaks on internal or doctored opinion/exit polls in the early phases of polling – which may have their impact on voting trends in the later phases. 

Parties have learnt to inundate an overloaded Election Commission with so many code of conduct violations that effectively most violations cannot be acted upon, Politicians have also tested the limits of the Commission’s tolerance and some like Mamata Banerjee have even attempted to take it on in order to play the victim card ahead of polling.  

The BJP's prime ministerial candidate makes it sound perfectly innocuous that he consciously and prominently displayed his party's symbol at a live televised press conference. But as this article says the "purpose" may have been deeper and was perhaps to ensure a constant exposure to the logo and hope that it will "seep into the subconscious of the voters and they will go for it instinctively when they stand in front of an EVM on election day." 

Given that the display of the party symbol wasn't as innocent as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate claims, the least that can be done is the letter of the law be followed -- likely a fine not jail time. But it is time for the EC to ask itself what purpose such an easily defeated code of conduct serves? Is it time to junk it entirely or get a whole lot tougher?

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