Disposing the first of five Congress complaints against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Election Commission Tuesday found no violation of the Model Code of Conduct and electoral laws in Modi’s April 1 speech at a poll rally in Wardha, Maharashtra.
Referring to Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s decision to also contest from Wayanad, Modi had said the party was “running away from majority-dominated areas” to “take refuge in areas where the majority is in minority”. He also said the Congress tried to label Hindus as terrorists and that the party would not be forgiven for it.
Calling Modi’s remarks “hateful, vile and divisive”, the Congress had approached the Commission on April 5, seeking action against the PM. The Commission’s all-clear to Modi came hours after it was issued notice by the Supreme Court on a Congress plea seeking direction to the poll panel to act on its complaints against Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.
In a separate decision, the Commission imposed a fresh ban on SP leader and Rampur candidate Azam Khan from campaigning for 48 hours for his “provocative speeches” against the district election machinery, and for making communally divisive comments. The ban will come into effect 6 am Wednesday.
This is the second time that the Commission has imposed a ban on Khan — he had earlier been barred for his ‘khaki underwear’ remark directed at BJP candidate Jaya Prada. The Commission also barred BJP’s Gujarat chief Jitubhai Vaghani from campaigning for three days for “using intemperate and abusive language” while addressing party workers in Surat on April 7. The 72-hour ban will start 4 pm on May 2.
The Commission’s clean chit to Modi on the Wardha speech was based on the report of the Maharashtra Chief Electoral Officer submitted on April 6. That report concluded that the PM’s remarks had not violated Sections 123 (3A) and 125 of the Representation of the People Act.
Section 123 (3A) deals with promotion of “feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes of the citizens of India on grounds of religion, race, caste, community or language” by a candidate. Section 125, on the other hand, spells out punishment of imprisonment of up to three years or fine or both for violating Section 123 (3A).
The Commission’s letter sent to Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala stated: “The matter has been examined in detail in accordance with the extant guidelines/provisions of the Model Code of Conduct, Representation of the People Act, 1951, and the report of the Chief Electoral Officer, Maharashtra. Accordingly, Commission is of considered view that in this matter no such violation has been noticed.”
The other Congress complaints against the PM relate to his remarks elsewhere: On April 6, in Nanded, Maharashtra, he again referred to the Wayanad seat as one where the “country’s majority is in minority”. On April 9, Modi urged first-time voters to dedicate their vote to the soldiers who carried out the Balakot air strikes and martyrs who lost their lives in the Pulwama terror attack. As first reported by The Indian Express on April 14, the Osmanabad District Electoral Officer, in his report submitted to the Maharashtra CEO, had found that this remark was “inconsistent” with the Commission’s instructions prohibiting the use of armed forces for political gains.
On April 21, while speaking in Patan in Gujarat, Modi, while referring to himself in third person, said he had 12 missiles ready and that had Pakistan not announced the return of Wing Commander Abhinandan then it would have had to face “qatal ki raat”. On the same day, addressing a rally in Barmer in Rajasthan, he had warned Pakistan, saying India’s nuclear arsenal is not meant for Diwali. “Every other day they used to say ‘we have nuclear button, we have nuclear button’. What do we have then? Have we kept it for Diwali?” he said.
In the Supreme Court Tuesday, the bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, which issued notice on Congress MP Sushmita Dev’s petition, also left it to the Commission to pass appropriate orders in the matter. “Issue notice. It will be open for the Election Commission of India to pass necessary/appropriate orders on the representation(s) of the petitioner,” the bench said, fixing the next hearing on May 2.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi appeared for Sushmita Dev. “Since March 10, 2019, i.e. the date on which General Elections 2019, were notified, the Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi and the BJP President, Mr Amit Shah, specifically in sensitive areas and States, have ex-facie violated the provisions of the RP Act and the Election Rules and the process, thereof,” she said in her petition.