National News Report Politics

Elections 2024: EC’s Role Questioned For Lack Of Action Against PM Modi

According to Frontline Magazine, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has been making news recently for all the wrong reasons. The process of appointing the three-member team, including the Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners, has sparked debate due to the extensive discretion granted to the government in these appointments. Additionally, the ECI’s handling of infractions of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) and The Representation of the People Act has been criticized for alleged selectivity and ad hoc decision-making.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) is an autonomous and permanent constitutional body responsible for organizing free and fair elections in the Union and States of India. The Constitution grants the ECI the power of direction, superintendence, and control of elections to Parliament, state legislatures, the office of president of India and the office of vice-president of India.

The Commission’s functions and powers with respect to elections are divided into three categories (Administrative, Advisory, and judicial).

1) Determining the Electoral Constituencies’ territorial areas throughout the country.
2) Preparing and periodically revising electoral rolls and registering all eligible voters.
3) Notifying the schedules and dates of elections and scrutinizing nomination papers.
4) It issues the Model Code of Conduct in elections for political parties and candidates so that no one indulges in unfair practice or there is no arbitrary abuse of powers by those in power.

ECI has been Extending a Lengthy Leash to BJP

Firstly, concerns were raised over the delayed and revised voter turnout numbers for the initial phases of the Lok Sabha election. Analysis done by the Frontline revealed a disparity in the ECI’s treatment of violations, with harsher censures and notices issued to opposition parties compared to the BJP and its allies. Moreover, the ECI faced criticism for equating violations of the Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita (formerly Indian Penal Code or IPC) with MCC breaches by BJP star campaigners and leaders of other parties.

Secondly, While some political leaders and party chiefs received show cause notices directly, the Election Commission of India (ECI) hesitated from doing so when three political parties alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the star campaigner of the National Democratic Alliance, violated the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), the Representation of the People Act, and IPC provisions through his rally speeches.

Thirdly, instead of taking suo moto action based on widely televised speeches in Banswara, Rajasthan, and available on PM Modi’s official social media, the ECI waited four days to issue a notice, not addressed to the Prime Minister but to BJP president J.P. Nadda. This delay and indirect addressing raised questions about the ECI’s approach to enforcement and accountability in electoral matters.

The notice issued by the Election Commission of India (ECI), though resembling the one sent to Congress, merely acknowledged complaints from Congress, CPI, and CPI (ML), emphasizing the expectation for national parties to adhere to high MCC standards.

Despite individual complaints from Congress and CPI (M-L) on April 21 and CPI on April 23 regarding the Banswara speech, the ECI only sent a notice to the BJP president on April 25, allowing until April 29 for a response. As of now, the BJP hasn’t replied. The ECI asserts parties must assume primary responsibility for their candidates’ conduct, especially star campaigners.

While the ECI maintains star campaigners’ individual accountability for speeches, it indicates addressing party presidents on a case-by-case basis. However, in Prime Minister Modi’s instance, the ECI has not directly held him accountable for his speeches.
Acting tough on Congress

The Election Commission of India (ECI) issued show cause notices directly to Congress MP Randeep Surjewala and spokesperson Supriya Shrinate for alleged violations of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).

Surjewala’s notice stemmed from remarks made on April 9 in Kaithal district, where he purportedly made derogatory comments about BJP candidate Hema Malini. Similarly, Shrinate received a notice for a social media post involving actress Kangana Ranaut.

In Surjewala’s case, the ECI took a strong view. It “condemned” his statement and reprimanded him for his conduct. It also barred him from holding any public meetings, rallies, or processions or giving interviews and utterances to the media for 48 hours. But no such embargo was put on the BJP’s star campaigner, nor did he get a reprimand.

PM Modi’s Banswara speech

On April 21, PM Modi’s Banswara speech was criticized by various political parties and the people. On April 25, the Election Commission of India (ECI) sent show cause notices to both the BJP and Congress presidents, aiming for balance.

The notice to Congress’s Mallikarjun Kharge was prompted by BJP complaints against speeches made by Rahul Gandhi and Kharge separately. Gandhi was accused of levelling “false and sinister allegations” against Narendra Modi during a speech in Coimbatore.

According to the complaint, Rahul Gandhi was behaving like an “incorrigible serial offender”. He had tried to create a linguistic divide between the Tamil people and others and levelled baseless allegations against Modi. The complaint itself was full of invective for Rahul Gandhi, describing him as a “pathological liar and habitual offender”.

Similarly, Kharge was also accused of “misleading voters” by suggesting that the BJP would change the Constitution if it came to power. Further, it was suggested that the Congress party and Rahul Gandhi were trying to build a false and deceitful narrative by undermining the achievements of the government, ruffling the sensitivities and sensibilities of the southern States, and spreading lies that leaders like Rahul Gandhi and Kharge had not been invited to the consecration ceremony at the Ayodhya Ram temple.

The Congress, in its complaint to the Election Commission of India (ECI), accused the BJP and its leaders of consistently exploiting religion and sentiments in their campaign. The Congress highlighted PM Modi’s Banswara speech as particularly divisive, alleging it aimed to sow discord among groups. Modi’s remarks, labelling Muslims as “infiltrators” and suggesting the Congress would favour them over others, were cited as egregious examples.

The Congress emphasized five instances where PM Modi insinuated the party’s opposition to Hindu culture. Despite these accusations, the ECI had not issued a show cause notice to Modi, prompting criticism from the Congress and CPI.

Both parties urged the ECI to consider the severity of Modi’s statements. They questioned whether similar leniency would be extended to any other candidate who defied the country’s laws as brazenly. These complaints underscored concerns about the ECI’s impartiality and the need for decisive action in addressing MCC violations.

The CPI(M-L) accused the Prime Minister of propagating “blatant lies, crudity, and communal dog-whistling” against the Muslim community while referencing the Congress manifesto, violating both the Representation of the People Act and the MCC.

They highlighted Modi’s communal speeches in Ajmer, Rajasthan, on April 6, Nawada, Bihar, on April 7, and Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh, on April 9, where he repeatedly invoked the Ram temple in Ayodhya and Hindu sentiments.

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Meanwhile, the CPI (M) lodged a complaint with the Delhi Police Commissioner regarding Modi’s Banswara speech. Sitaram Yechury, the party’s general secretary, urged the Election Commission of India (ECI) to take action against the BJP and Modi for these remarks.

According to Reports, There have been instances of selective application of the MCC. On April 16, the BJP accused the Congress of engaging in corrupt practices, citing the latter’s “Ghar Ghar Guarantee” program launched on April 3, which aims to reach 8 crore households with party guarantees.

Subsequently, on May 2, the Election Commission of India (ECI) directed parties to halt voter enrollment for post-election beneficiary-oriented schemes, deeming it bribery under the Representation of the People Act.

Furthermore, on May 6, the ECI issued an order requiring parties to promptly remove fake content within three hours of identification. The order warned against the misuse of AI-based tools to create deep fakes to spread misinformation. The ECI emphasized utilizing existing legal mechanisms to combat misinformation and synthetic content flagged by political parties.

On May 2, the BJP lodged a complaint with the ECI regarding doctored content involving Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Subsequently, the Delhi Police registered an FIR based on a complaint from the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre. This led to summons for individuals like Telangana Chief Minister Revanth Reddy and Jharkhand Congress chief Rajesh Thakur.

While the Congress’ national social media team coordinator faced arrest, the Election Commission of India (ECI) merely directed the removal of an animated video by BJP’s Karnataka unit on X social media platform, portraying Rahul Gandhi, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, and Muslims as beneficiaries of Congress policies.

Criticism has arisen over the ECI’s perceived inaction towards Prime Minister Modi’s speeches, which consistently single out Muslims. At an election rally in Hyderabad on May 1, Modi pledged to prevent reservations for Dalits, Adivasis, and OBCs from being extended to Muslims based on religion.

He alleged that the Congress granted BC reservations to Muslims in undivided Andhra Pradesh after the 2004 and 2009 elections. On May 7 in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh, Modi accused the Congress of minority appeasement, claiming they would divert reservations from SCs, STs, and OBCs to Muslims, echoing sentiments from his Banswara speech.

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