India elections: Candidates who violate poll code face campaign time-out

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of the BJP is barred from campaigning for 72 hours for making religiously polarising speeches. An electrician testing LED-fitted boards with symbols of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the main op
An electrician testing LED-fitted boards with symbols of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the main opposition Congress party at a workshop in Ahmedabad on Tuesday. The Election Commission says that, up to Monday, there have been 338 complaints of code violations, prompting some experts to call for the commission to do more. PHOTO: REUTERS
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of the BJP is barred from campaigning for 72 hours for making religiously polarising speeches. An electrician testing LED-fitted boards with symbols of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the main op
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of the BJP is barred from campaigning for 72 hours for making religiously polarising speeches.

4 suspended for up to 72 hours as election body accused of doing too little to stem hate speech

India's Election Commission (EC) has barred at least four politicians from campaigning temporarily amid criticism that it has done little to stem hate speeches and other poll code violations by political parties, particularly the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

India is in the middle of staggered elections in which the BJP is being challenged by the Congress and regional parties.

All candidates, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are governed by a model code of conduct, a set of guidelines for seeking votes.

The code prevents appeals to caste or communal feelings for securing votes or indulging in activity aggravating tensions between caste and religions. It also bans politicisation of the armed forces.

The commission, which has come under Supreme Court scrutiny, barred Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and MP Maneka Gandhi - both of whom are from the BJP - from campaigning for 72 hours and 48 hours respectively for making religiously polarising speeches during campaigning.

The time-out was due to take effect from yesterday.

Mr Adityanath had said "Bajrang Bali" or "Hanuman", a Hindu deity, would vote for the BJP, while "Ali", in a reference to the Muslim community, would vote for Congress and other regional parties.

 
 

"The commission has again seen the video recording of his impugned speech and is convinced that he has made a highly provocative speech which has the tone and tenor to aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred between different religious communities," the commission said when it issued its order.

The others barred included Ms Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party for 48 hours and Mr Azam Khan of the Samajwadi Party for 72 hours.

An independent authority under the Constitution, the EC is responsible for organising the mammoth election, ensuring that it remains free and fair and that all 900 million eligible voters can exercise their democratic right.

The EC has earned much praise for the hard work of its officials to get to every voter even in the remotest area but not for enforcing the code of conduct.

The commission, for example, had earlier merely advised Mr Adityanath to be careful for calling the armed forces Modi Sena or Modi army.

Mr Modi himself has come under the spotlight after a rally last Wednesday during which he asked first-time voters to dedicate their ballots to soldiers who carried out the air strike in the recent confrontation with Pakistan and vote for the BJP. Opposition parties denounced that as a clear poll code violation and the EC is reported to be examining the case.

At a separate rally, the Prime Minister stood on a stage which had as a backdrop photographs of the 40 soldiers killed in a suicide bombing in Kashmir, which triggered the confrontation with Pakistan. The EC says there have been 338 complaints of code violations as of Monday, a number which has prompted some experts to call for the commission to do more.

 
 

"At times, it appears that the Election Commission seems to be overwhelmed with the number of violations and perhaps didn't know what to do with them. They will have to be more vigilant that actions taken are, in fact, implemented and do have impact," said Mr Jagdeep S. Chhokar, founder and trustee of the Association for Democratic Reforms.

"There is a saying that one should not only be honest but appear to be honest. The Election Commission should not just be impartial but should also appear to be impartial. In some cases it hasn't been so active in explaining or justifying its action. So the opposition is saying it is soft on the ruling party," he added.

Punitive measures available to the EC to punish wrongdoing range from written censure to bans on campaigning and, in extreme cases, to filing a case under the Indian Penal Code or the Income Tax Act.

Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, in response to all the criticism, told NDTV in an interview that the body "tried to work as per Constitution" and in an "understated way", refusing to be drawn into a response to opposition charges.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2019, with the headline 'Candidates who violate poll code face campaign time-out'. Print Edition | Subscribe