Concerned over what it called the slipping standards of electoral discourse and rising shrillness in campaign rhetoric in Bihar, the Election Commission urged political parties and its leaders Friday to observe “restraint” and “decency” in their speeches.
The poll watchdog expressed “deep anguish” over the tone and tenor of recent political speeches, which it felt were “calculated to cause mutual hatred, disharmony or ill-will and aimed at aggravating differences between different political parties and classes of citizens on the grounds of religion, caste and community”.
Election officials have already lodged FIRs against several candidates as well as high-profile political leaders, including BJP president Amit Shah, JD(U) president Sharad Yadav, RJD chief Lalu Prasad and AIMIM leader Akbaruddin Owaisi.
According to Bihar’s additional chief electoral officer R Lakshmana, the state poll machinery has lodged 37 FIRs in the run-up to the assembly polls against leaders and candidates for making speeches “without permission” and speeches that aim to “promote enmity and hatred between communities”.
Shah, for instance, has an FIR against him for calling Lalu a “chara chor” (fodder thief) while referring to his conviction in the fodder scam. He said this while addressing BJP workers at Singhaul in Begusarai district on September 30. Lalu hit back a day later, referring to the Gujarat riots and calling Shah a “narbhakshi”. He, too, was slapped with an FIR.
The EC’s latest FIR was lodged against Sharad Yadav, who said at a rally on October 7 that those who don’t vote for JD(U) candidates would land in “jehanum” (hell).
Currently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Lalu are locked in a war of words over the RJD chief’s remarks on beef eating.
The commission also said that while it recognises the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the Constitution, such a right “is not absolute” and is to be exercised in such a manner that it does not transcend the boundaries of decency and morality, disturb public order, amount to defamation or give incitement to an offence.
“The Commission therefore strongly urges and appeals to all political parties, their leaders in all capacities and the contesting candidates to observe utmost restraint and decency in their election campaign speeches and set an example for future elections in the matter of maintaining high standards of conduct and behaviour in election campaign,” the EC stated.
Sources said the advisory has been issued as a warning to political parties and the EC will not shy away from following the precedent set during the Lok Sabha elections. The poll panel had banned Shah and Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan from campaigning in Uttar Pradesh during the Lok Sabha polls for allegedly making inflammatory comments.