BJP leader Shailesh Mehta (Sotta), who is a candidate from the Dabhoi Assembly constituency stirred up a controversy, when he made a remark against the minority community while addressing a public meeting during his campaign.
Sotta spoke of “reducing the numbers” of those sporting “dadhi-topi” and pledged to “not give a single penny to madrassas or masjids” from his MLA fund if he wins the polls. Following this, the District Election Officer (DEO) initiated proceeding to send notice to Sotta for his “communally provocative” speech under the relevant sections of the Representation of People’s Act 1951. Sotta is a sitting Municipal Corporator from Vadodara city.
When contacted, Sotta told The Indian Express that he was only referring to the anti-social elements and did not name any community. “I was referring to anti-social elements who are running their activities by threatening the people in that area (Dabhoi), because some of these anti-social elements and criminals, who have been detained by the police, commented that they face a threat because of me. I had to answer them. And I stand by what I say, because I am a threat to anti-social elements so that the innocent people can live happily.”
The video of Sotta’s speech, which has gone viral on social media is of a public meeting held late Wednesday night during his regular canvassing in the area. Dabhoi, which comprises of 37.54 per cent Muslim population, also has a sizable population of Patel community.
During the meeting, Sotta said, “If someone with dadhi-topi (beard-cap) is among the people here, forgive me, but their numbers have to reduce here (Koi topi dadhi vala ahiya betha hoy to maf karjo pan e vastu ahiya gha tadvani jarur che). We have to see that there should not be population of Dubai here (Dabhoi), I want to assure that I will not donate single penny to Masjid and Madrasa.”
Sotta further stated that although people advised him against speaking about the communal factor in his address, he was bound to talk about “his own kaum(community).” He said, “People warned me against speaking about this as it will create a controversy, but if 90 per cent people are with me, why should I not speak for the 10 per cent? I have been born in this kaum (community) and it is my right to speak about my own kaum. If I cannot do that, then what is the point of contesting polls?”
Sotta warned that those indulging in “rioting” will be given a befitting reply. He said, “Now those who are involved in chamakalas (rioting), must stop their activities otherwise they will be given a befitting reply (eent no jawab patthar thi madse).”
While Sotta received applause from the animated crowd every time he made a statement, he went on to say that he has arrived in Dabhoi to “create fear” in the minds of anti-social elements. Sotta said, “I heard that when my name was announced as candidate here, these anti-social elements held a meeting and said they fear me. It is good. Because, I am here to create fear among the anti-social elements and criminals. I am not here to be scared. They must not dare to speak looking into my eyes, otherwise they should be ready to face the result. I am declaring this in public.”
When contacted, District Election Officer P Bharati said that the Returning Officer has been asked to send a notice to Sotta, as the act is a “prima facie” violation of the Model Code of Conduct. Bharati told The Indian Express, “We have seen the video and it is a serious act of violation of Model Code of Conduct. I have asked the nodal officer as well as the returning officer to submit the reports, later this evening. Following that, as per the procedure, we will serve a notice upon Shailesh Mehta.” She said that further action against Sotta will be initiated under Section 125 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951 which lays down penal provision for “Promoting enmity between classes in connection with election.”
The Act states, “Any person, who in connection with an election under this Act promotes or attempts to promote on grounds of religion, race, caste, community or language, feelings of enmity or hatred, between different classes of the citizens of India shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.”