As the BJP continued to press for the removal of the Varanasi returning officer over the denial of permission for rallies by Narendra Modi, Election Commissioner H S Brahma on Friday conceded there had been an avoidable delay in conveying the decision to the party.
The EC, meanwhile, decided on Friday to send Tamil Nadu chief electoral officer Praveen Kumar to Varanasi as special observer for the May 12 poll.
Brahma said the showdown with the BJP was the result of an “operational issue” that could have been resolved through quick intervention.
“You are entitled to take a decision under law. You have a right and duty to take a decision… the person has a right to know yes or no… It should be communicated in an appropriate time. My only point is that there should be no delay in saying a yes or no,” Brahma said at the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) in Delhi.
A candidate has full right to campaign in his constituency, Brahma said. He said the episode was unfortunate, and “should not have escalated” in the way it did. In a high-profile constituency like Varanasi, decisions need to be taken and conveyed promptly, he said.
“…If you take 20 minutes normally, you should, maybe, take 10 minutes or 5 minutes”, Brahma said.
Speaking to Karan Thapar on the ‘To the Point’ programme on Headlines Today, Brahma said he personally felt that there was a “communication gap” between the returning officer and the BJP, and that the former should have acted “in a professional manner”.
“The RO should have explained to the applicant (of the BJP) the reasons for not allowing the programme (in Beniyabagh)… It should have been done in a professional manner… there was a communication gap between the RO and the applicant, I personally feel,” Brahma said in the interview, PTI reported.
Brahma confirmed that the denial of permission to hold rallies had to do with information provided by the Gujarat Police. He said that a Gujarat Police officer who was part of Narendra Modi’s advance security liaison team had “indicated” that the rally ground was not a “desirable” place for the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate because it was “highly congested” and “complicated”. The size of the venue was also considered inadequate for a large gathering.
The Election Commissioner declined to react to Modi’s attacks on the EC, saying one must be open to criticism. “EC also must be ready to accept if there is a mistake… yes, we will correct it then,” he said.
He also denied the Election Commission was divided on the matter. “How can we be divided? We are too small, just three people, to be divided on issues,” he said.
Later in the evening, the EC too issued a clarification stressing that the panel was working “as a team”.
“…Top (EC) leadership comprising all three commissioners functions as a team and is discharging its constitutional responsibilities with firmness and with the required promptitude”, the commission said.
It denied “strongly” that it was “taking more than normal time to take action against poll violations”, and said that “most of the violations are disposed of with promptitude”.
“However, the subjects which require minute inputs from the field and requiring further verifications take little more time and are accordingly disposed of,” it said.
On the issue of denial of permission to Modi’s rally, the EC said that it had “acted with full alacrity and after verifying ground realities from the district administration which were further got verified at the level of chief secretary and DGP, and a suitable reply was sent to the leaders of the party”.