A day before 57 seats in Mithila, Kosi and Seemanchal — which have a sizeable Muslim population — go to polls tomorrow bringing the curtains down on the bitterly contested Bihar elections, the BJP today earned the Election Commission’s ire over an election ad it released today which its rivals called “low-level communal politics.”
The ad, showing a woman hugging a cow, in local newspapers alleged that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s allies had “repeatedly insulted every Indian’s venerable cow” and yet he remained “silent.”
The EC imposed an unprecedented restriction on political advertisements in newspapers Wednesday, just a day ahead of the last phase of polls in Bihar. Resorting to its extraordinary powers under Article 324 of the Constitution for the second time during this Bihar election, the poll watchdog prohibited all political parties, candidates, organisations and even individuals from publishing political advertisements in newspapers on November 5, unless approved by the state election machinery. Newspapers, on the other hand, have been ordered to not carry non-certified advertisments.
EC’s pre-certification of advertisements, since 2004, has been limited to audio-visual spots which cover television, radio and, more recently, social media. The latest direction has extended this vetting to print media, although just for a day, to ensure “no untoward incident takes place because of any inflammatory or hate advertisements” on the day of polling.
The unprecedented step was taken in wake of BJP’s advertisement on beef eating, which appeared in four dailies of Bihar this morning, even though the state party president had been warned by the Bihar Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) on October 31 against carrying communal and divisive content in BJP’s advertisements.
The latest advertisement was published as part of a series that the saffron party has been running called “Jawab Nahin, Vote Nahin (If you have no answer, you get no vote).” These advertisements have been asking the Bihar Chief Minister and RJD supremo a series of questions with the tagline “Lalu-Nitish jawab do, 25 saalo ka hisab do (Lalu-Nitish, give answers, provide an account of what you did in 25 years).”
Bihar EC officials have also filed FIRs against four Hindi newspapers which carried the beef advertisement under IPC and Representation of People Act and served state BJP president a showcause notice for the same.
The poll watchdog’s first warning to BJP had come after it published an advertisement last week, which was also part of the “Jawab Nahin, Vote Nahin” series, accusing Lalu and Nitish of conspiring to take away a part of the quota for Dalits, Mahadalits, OBCs and EBCs to give it to minorities.
Observing that such content could promote differences among voters and create ill will and disharmony, the ECI had prohibited the media from carrying such content and directed its state CEO to warn the party’s state president against repeating such actions. As a pre-emptive step, it had also asked all political parties to submit copies of their advertisements, simultaneously, with its release for publication in newspapers.
“The intention of the first order was to warn parties and let know them know that we are keeping a watchful eye on their ads as well. It was meant to serve as a deterrant,”said an ECI official, who did not wish to be identified.
On Wednesday, the Bihar CEO’s office discovered that the BJP circumvented the first order by mailing a copy of the beef advertisement late, around 10 pm on Tuesday. “This is why it wasn’t it escaped out notice. Pre-certification has been made mandatory by Which is why we made pre-certification mandatory for the last day, so that parties cannot circumvent the system,” said an EC source in Bihar.
The ad quoted Lalu Prasad’s “Hindus-also-eat-beef” remark and Singh’s comment that “it is written in Vedas and Puranas that saints used to eat beef in ancient times.” It also quoted Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah’s comment that “if I want to eat beef nobody can stop me.” The ad in Hindi, with the word “beef” highlighted in red, urged Nitish to end “vote-bank politics” and asked him if he agreed with the statements. It closed with the tagline, “Jawab nahi toh vote nahi (No answer, no vote)” — part of a series the BJP has been running in local newspapers.
An earlier ad, which alleged Nitish and Lalu were “conspiring” to take away quota from OBCs, EBCs, Dalits and Mahadalits to give it to “another community” had drawn a sharp rebuke from the Election Commission.
The JD(U)-RJD-Congress grand alliance today approached the Election Commission seeking action against the BJP for what it called its attempt to “polarize Bihar elections by promoting communal hatred”. A delegation comprising JD(U) general secretary K C Tyagi and Congress spokespersons RPN Singh and Ajoy Kumar today met the EC and alleged the advertisement amounted to “seeking votes in the name of religion”.
Said JD(U) Rajya Sabha MP Ali Anwar: “The BJP has been resorting to old gimmicks in its bid to polarise polls. It knows it has been very weak in Seemanchal and Kosi regions and is trying to divide voters on communal lines. But voters have become mature and cannot fall for such a trap.” Said RJD national spokesperson Manoj Jha: “The RJD, JD(U) and Congress representatives today went to the EC demanding stern action against the BJP and newspapers publishing such ads. It is not just about the Bihar election but about what message the BJP wants to give to a democratic country. The BJP has scant respect for institutions. It senses a rout in the Bihar polls which is why it has stooped so low.”
Despite winning 31 of 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the NDA had failed to win any of the six seats in Seemanchal and Kosi regions.
The BJP, however, defended its action with senior party leader Sushil Kumar Modi saying,”There is nothing wrong in our advertisement on beef issue and asking the chief minister to
break his silence on controversial remarks.”
Saying that they wanted to expose the “duplicity” of “so-called secular parties”, BJP’s leader of opposition in the assembly Nand Kishore Yadav said: “It is the Grand Alliance leaders who tried to polarise the election with beef remarks. Lalu and Raghuvansh justified eating beef. We are only seeking their clarification and what Nitish thinks about his partners’ remarks.”
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