BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi courted trouble on Wednesday as he displayed his party’s symbol and delivered a “political speech” outside a polling booth in Ahmedabad after he cast his vote in the morning. Hours later, the Ahmedabad Crime Branch filed an FIR against him on the orders of the Election Commission.
Minutes after he voted at a booth in Ranip, Ahmedabad, Modi took a selfie, holding his party’s symbol — a metal lotus — with his inked finger. He continued to display the symbol as he addressed the press.
“We have registered an FIR against Chief Minister Narendra Modi as directed by the EC under Section 126 (1) (a) and 126 (1) (b) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code,” confirmed DCP (Crime) Himanshu Shukla. He said a complaint has also been registered against some “media channels” for covering the event.
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Earlier in the day, the EC called for action in its communication to the Gujarat Chief Secretary and Director General of Police. Stating that it had “seen the video recording of the address” by Modi, the EC said that “from the substance, tone and tenor of the address” and the “manner in which the symbol, lotus, of the BJP was being displayed by him… thereby displaying to the public election matter by means of television in areas going to polls today”, it is “evident” that it “was in the nature of political speech intended and calculated to influence and affect the result of elections in the constituencies going to polls today, not only in Ahmedabad but also in all other constituencies in Gujarat and elsewhere in the country”.
The poll panel said it was “of the view that by holding that meeting… when the polling is going on in the entire state of Gujarat and in different parts of the country, Modi has violated the provisions of Sections 126 (1) (a) and 126 (l) (b) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.”
It further directed that “complaints/ FIRs as the case may be” should be filed against Modi and “all others who were involved in the convening and holding of the said meeting”. It said “if any restrictions have been imposed by the competent authority in Ahmedabad under Section 144 of CrPC, then complaints/ FlR should also be made under Section 188 of IPC”.
The EC also directed that separate complaints/ FIRs should be filed against all the TV channels and other electronic media which carried the proceedings/ images of the meeting and display of election matter.
The poll panel asked the Gujarat officials to send compliance reports by 6 pm, along with copies of the complaints/ FIRs. “We received the EC’s order and after going through it we asked the Ahmedabad Crime Branch to register the FIR. It has been done,” said Gujarat Additional Chief Secretary (Home) S K Nanda.
Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, prohibits public meetings during a period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for conclusion of polling.
Section 126 (1) (a) states that no person shall convene, hold or attend, join or address any public meeting or procession in connection with an election. Section 126 (1) (b) says no person shall display to the public any election matter by means of cinematograph, television or other similar apparatus. Any violation of these provisions are punishable with imprisonment of up to two years or fine or both.
Last year, the Supreme Court had ruled that an MP or MLA would be immediately disqualified if convicted by a court for a criminal offence with a jail sentence of two years or more. If convicted, Modi’s status as a Gujarat MLA or a Lok Sabha MP (if elected) could be in jeopardy.
“At this stage, it is a hypothetical situation. Only an FIR has been filed. It doesn’t mean that a person has been convicted or not convicted. An inquiry will happen, the matter will go to a court which will frame charges,” said constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap.
“If this action is mainly on account of showing his party’s symbol, wouldn’t it be a violation if Samajwadi Party candidates come on cycles or someone from another party comes to a polling station on an elephant. Would showing the hand be a violation, since that too is the symbol of a party? All this will have to be examined,” said Kashyap.
Asked if getting convicted in a case like this could have an impact on Modi’s candidature, Kashyap said, “The legal provision is there. Whether it has to be applied or not is for the court to decide.”