The District Magistrate of East District issued a showcause notice to BJP MLA O P Sharma, asking him to pull down a post from his Facebook timeline which carries a photo of Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman alongside that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sharma himself.
Issuing the notice on Tuesday, DM (East) K Mahesh said the image was shared on Sharma’s Twitter handle. But on Wednesday, he said that it was, in fact, on his Facebook timeline. Mahesh drew Sharma’s attention to the Election Commission’s letter dated March 13 — that the Model Code of Conduct had come into force — and the General Advisory to political parties dated March 9.
Sharma, when contacted, said it was “double standards” by the EC.
“I have removed the picture that I had on Twitter after the SDM asked me to, and would also remove other pictures if they ask. But I would also want to ask: Which Indian does not have a picture of Abhinandan on his social network? He is the pride of India.”
As of 9 pm on Wednesday, the Facebook post was still up. Mahesh, meanwhile, said: “I have directed Facebook to remove the posts, which carry the photo of a defence personnel, from Sharma’s account. They have been given 24 hours to do it.”
The EC’s advisory had stated: “The Ministry of Defence has brought to the notice of the Commission that photographs of defence personnel are being used by political parties, their leaders and candidates in advertisements as part of their election propaganda, and requested the Commission to issue suitable instructions in this regard.”
“Armed Forces… are apolitical and neutral stakeholders in a modern democracy… photographs of Chief of Army Staff or any other defence personnel should not be used… in connection with elections by political parties and candidates,” it added.
The photo in question had allegedly been posted by Sharma on Facebook on March 1.
“You are directed to show cause why action under electoral laws and rules framed thereunder must not be initiated against you. You are directed to submit your reply on or before March 14 at 11 am, failing which necessary action shall be initiated in accordance with the MCC and other electoral laws and rules,” the March 12 notice stated.
On Wednesday, Mahesh asked Sharma to “delete the post on your Facebook timeline immediately, in view of the express ECI letter dated December 4, 2013, regarding using photographs of defence personnel in advertisements…”
“The letter dated December 4, 2013, has been reiterated by ECI vide letter March 9 and also directed that any other post on Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, YouTube/Google violating the directions of ECI instructions, must also be deleted,” he said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Delhi Chief Electoral Officer Ranbir Singh said they had not received Sharma’s response so far. He also said that similar notices have not been issued to any other political leader in the capital so far.
Sharma, meanwhile, said: “I have not used the picture for political purpose, I didn’t ask for votes on it. Every Indian has the right to celebrate his victory. Where is the EC when (CM Arvind) Kejriwal’s people violate the model code by calling people and spreading lies about their names being deleted from voter rolls? This reflects the EC’s double standards. If at all there is a rule that prevents one from posting his picture on their social network wall, it is wrong and the EC should change it.”
“Subhas Chandra Bose was also in the Army, so what does that mean? Indians will not use his picture on their Facebook walls? Agar hum Abhinandan ka abhinandan nahi karenge to kya Masood Azhar ka karein?” he added.