As campaigning for the Gujarat Assembly elections remained high-pitched, several complaints regarding violation of the Model Code of Conduct swamped poll officials during this period.
An archbishop’s statement, a BJP candidate’s controversial video and an election officer forgetting a VVPAT were among the 158 complaints of violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) registered with the State Election Commission. Inquiries by respective District Election Officers, however, have not resulted in any perceptible action yet, except notices being issued to the “accused violators”.
While most DEOs are awaiting instructions from state CEO B B Swain for further action, Vadodara unit of the Congress has written to President Ram Nath Kovind, urging him to exercise his power of superintendence as the State Election Commission and the Election Commission of India were “not behaving as per vested responsibility to conduct free and fair elections of Gujarat”.
“The Constitution of India has vested in the Election Commission of India the superintendence, direction and control of the entire process for conduct of elections to Parliament and Legislature of every state and to the offices of President and Vice-President of India. The Election Commission of India is a permanent constitutional body. My complain is the Gujarat Assembly General Election of 2017 is going on with intentional negligence, misconduct and biased by te Election Commission of India and its all down offices (sic),” said Vadodara Congress vice-president Shailesh Amin in his letter to President Kovind on December 11.
Amin enlisted certain points to highlight the “biased attitude” of the EC, including the party’s earlier complaints to the poll body on which allegedly no action was taken. He also cited certain projects undertaken by the Vadodara Municipal Corporation, claiming such work violated the Model Code of Conduct. Among the complaints was also an instance of BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra using a Gujarat government vehicle during his visit to Vadodara.
Sources in the Election Commission said that due cognizance was taken of the complaints received from the Vadodara Congress. The EC officials checked the work orders issued by the Vadodara Municipal Corporation and found no violation of the Model Code of Conduct.
In the run-up to the elections, the poll panel also received several complaints regarding inflammatory and controversial speeches made by politicians and religious leaders.
On November 25, the State Election Commission served a notice upon the Archbishop of Gandhinagar,Thomas Macwan, seeking explanation on his November 21 letter, issued to the Catholic community, for prayers to ensure election of such leaders who “remain faithful to the Indian Constitution” so that the country can be “saved of nationalist forces”.
Officials of the State Election Commission said that the notice was sent following an e-mail complaint received by the Election Commission of India from an organisation, Legal Rights Observatory (LRO), which cited violation of the Representation of People Act, 1951. The complaint of the LRO had sought “immediate action” against the Archbishop, claiming Macwan’s letter was an attempt to “generate fear” among voters to “divide people on the basis of caste and creed” and “baseless allegations” against nationalist forces.
While the Archbishop replied to the notice and the Gandhinagar District Election Officer submitted his report to the CEO, the case remained inconclusive.
Election officials of the district said that while they are inclined to accept the explanation of the Archbishop, a conclusion in the case can be made only by the CEO.
In Vadodara, too, the DEO submitted a report to the CEO regarding a notice served by the Returning Officer of Dabhoi Assembly Constituency upon BJP candidate Shailesh Mehta Sotta for his inflammatory comments against a minority community. Sotta, during a poll meeting, had said that “If someone with dadhi-topi (beard-cap) is among the audience, forgive me, but their numbers have to reduce here (in Dabhoi)… I want to assure that I will not donate a single penny to masjid and madrasa.”
Replying to the notice, Sotta defended his comment, saying “did not name any community, but only spoke of anti-social elements, who threaten and harass citizens”.
On Sotta’s reply, DEO P Bharati said, “We have submitted a report to the CEO and are awaiting instructions for further action.”
According to an election officer, the monitoring cell set up by the EC to keep a tab on MCC violations has not taken any suo motu action against violations of the Model Code of Conduct in most Assembly constituencies.
An officer, requesting anonymity, said, “We have been told to act on specific complaints… However, we have not initiated action against minor MCC violations. Of course, if a candidate indulges in blatant violation of MCC like provocative speeches, the media coverage will ensure that inquiry is initiated and cognizance is taken.”
The only action initiated, so far, has been against the zonal officer of Narmada District Election Department, who was suspended on Wednesday, for “negligence” during the first phase of polls on December 9. The incident occurred in the polling booth number 17 of the Dediapada Assembly constituency when zonal officer Kaushik Kathad allegedly forgot to return a ‘reserve’ VVPAT machine allotted to the booth, leaving it in a private vehicle.
While the rest of the EVM and VVPAT machines were duly returned to the strong room in Rajpipla and sealed, workers of the Bhartiya Tribal Party belonging to Chhotu Vasava’s son Mahesh, accompanied the driver of the private car, to meet DEO R S Ninama in Rajpipla.
When the group presented the “misplaced” VVPAT machine, election officers were taken by surprise and Ninama instantly ordered an inquiry and submitted a report to the CEO on Tuesday.
According to a senior official from the Election Commission, a total of 158 complaints of violations of Model Code of Conduct have been filed in Gujarat, of which 153 were disposed.
Of these, 43 complaints have been filed directly with the Election Commission of India in New Delhi and the same has been forwarded to Gujarat for necessary action.
The poll panel on Tuesday had issued a notice to Bhushan Bhatt, the BJP candidate from Jamalpur-Khadia Assembly constituency, over a viral video in which he is heard saying “EC ki aisi ki taisi (who cares for the EC)”, while purportedly planning a bike rally for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public meeting on the Sabarmati riverfront. The video also shows him promising “fuel tokens” to those bringing vehicles. He has been given time till Thursday to respond.
“Of the total complaints that we have received, there are about seven cases where FIRs have been filed. The rest are of not serious ones,” said a senior official in Gandhinagar. FIRs have been filed against Balwantbhai Patel in Kadi and Hasmukh Patel in Becharaji for organising elections sabhas without the necessary permission. For a similar reason, a third FIR has been filed against Tushar Patel in Rajkot. “There have been a few FIRs for holding election meetings without the mandatory permission,” the official added.
Another FIR has been filed against Amrishbhai Der, Chetan Der and others for playing music system beyond the time stipulated by the EC for poll propaganda. Similarly, a case has been filed against 8-10 members of Patidar
Anamat Andolan Samiti for vandalising the BJP office on Varacccha Road in Surat. Dinesh Sharma, an opposition member of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, was booked for organising a book release function and a press conference on the AMC premises.
“We also received some not-so-serious complaints of MCC violation, including against in teacher in Lakhmi taluka of Banaskanta district, where the complainant Chaudhary Devabhai on November 6 accused a teacher of campaigning for a particular party instead of teaching during school hours. Our officials investigated and found the complaint to be false,” the official said.