The Gujarat election verdict will be delivered on Monday but the Election Commission is still looking into a plethora of complaints against the ruling BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Congress feels that little was happening to all its complaints against the Bharatiya Janata Party while things moved quickly when it came to grievances against others in the fray. The stock reply of the Gujarat Chief Election Officer (CEO) to all queries is: “We are looking into it.” The CEO’s office could not tell IANS for two days the number of complaints it got for violation of the model code of conduct. The Congress has made 20 applications. Since the announcement of the Gujarat elections on October 25, the code of conduct came into effect, preventing the government from making any policy announcements related to new schemes and preventing all parties from invoking communal and caste tensions. The parties were also barred from using official machinery to influence voters.
The key instances of allegations of violation of the code of the conduct were against Modi. The first was during a public meeting he addressed in Palitana in Bhavnagar district on November 29 where he allegedly incited hatred between the Patidar and Rajput communities over a conflict that occurred more than 30 years ago.
In 1982, three members of the Rajput community of Chomal village near Mangadh were killed and 19 Patels were charged with murder but were acquitted. In an alleged reprisal in 1984, the Rajputs killed nine Patidars in Mangadh. After that, Mangadh village remained embroiled in caste conflict. But time healed matters and since then the area has seen peace. But Modi stirred passions: “Gujarat cannot forget those days when (Patidar) farmers were looted by a handful of strongmen (Rajputs) who had the blessings of the Congress. Now it is for the people to decide whether they want those days back. Do you want to bless those who carried out murders of innocents in Mangadh?” He repeatedly asked these questions.
Through the Bhavnagar District Collector, the Gujarat Khedut Samaj filed a complaint against Modi and urged the poll panel that he be banned from campaigning further as he was inciting hatred. Although Election Commission rules prohibit aggravating existing differences or creating mutual hatred or tension, Gujarat CEO B.B. Swain said: “We are looking into it.”
The rules also bar campaigners and candidates from appealing to caste or communal feelings. Mosques, churches, temples and other places of worship cannot be used for election propaganda. But at an event at the Vadtal Swaminarayan sect temple on November 4, the chief administrator of the shrine, Maharaj Ghanshyam Prasad Das, appealed to the devotees to vote for the BJP — in the presence of Modi and Chief Minister Vijay Rupani.
Asked about this, Swain said: “The Commission is looking into it.” But the Commission acted swiftly and issued a notice to the Archbishop of Gandhinagar through the District Collector, asking him to explain the intention and aim in writing a letter in which he asked Christians to organize prayer services so that those elected in Gujarat remain faithful to the Indian Constitution.
Chief Minister Rupani announced a ban on controversial film “Padmavati”. Asked if this not a violation of the code of conduct, Swain said: “The Commission is looking into it.” The code of conduct clearly states that once elections are announced, ministers and other authorities shall not lay foundation stones of projects or schemes. But on the last day of campaign on December 12, Modi flew off in a seaplane from the Sabarmati riverfront to Dharoi Dam reservoir to announce the launch of the seaplane service by the central government.
When pointed out that this was a clear violation of the code of conduct, Swain maintained: “The Commission is looking into it.” In sharp contrast, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was swiftly slapped with a notice for giving interviews to Gujarati TV channels on the eve of polling for the second and last phase on December 14.
But on the day of polling, Modi, a voter from Ranip in Ahmedabad, while returning from the voting booth, openly displayed his finger during a veritable roadshow.
The Congress complained to the Election Commission. Swain said: “The Commission is looking into it.” The code of conduct prohibits parties and candidates from canvassing within 100 metres of polling stations.
The Congress complained, backed by video evidence, that an outgoing BJP MLA paid money to voters coming out of a polling booth. Swain’s comment: “The Commission is looking into it.” The Congress asked the Election Commission to bar three tainted officials from conducting poll duty. One of them, Mahendra Patel, had made personal comments against then Congress President Sonia Gandhi on his Facebook page.
And two police officials were involved in alleged controversial encounter killings and were out on bail — Rajkumar Pandian (and Abhay Chudasama.
Mohan Jha, the Additional Director General of Police and the nodal officer for the Election Commission’s police deployment plan, said: “Since there is no ongoing departmental inquiry against these officials, there is no breach or violation of any rules.”