India’s poll panel must punish errant candidates

As the political temperature in India rises with the summer heat, candidates of various parties fighting general elections are abandoning issue-based campaigns, calling each other names and even threatening voters.

One among them is the prime ministerial aspirant and Congress party president Rahul Gandhi whose father, grandmother and great grandfather had served as past prime ministers of the country.

One has lost count of how many times Rahul called incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi, 20 years older than him, a ‘chor’ (thief) over a defence scandal invented by his own party to win elections.

The Congress desperately needs to come back to power as some of its leaders including Rahul are facing corruption charges and out on bail. The constant ‘chor’ jibe by opposition parties at Modi, who provided clean governance during his five-year tenure, has to be seen from this angle.

Rahul’s anger and frustration over Modi’s clean image is understandable. But his response to a Supreme Court decision last week on the Rafale fighter jets deal was baffling.

The court said it will examine some leaked government files published by a newspaper while considering review petitions against its ruling on Rafale deal that almost gave a clean chit to the Modi government.

Rahul said the court’s admissibility of the leaked files proved that Modi was a “chor” and he took money from Anil Ambani, an offset partner of Dassault, manufacturer of Rafale fighter jets. 

The top court never mentioned Modi or Ambani in its remarks. Rahul seems to have misinterpreted the court’s views to mislead the voters.

A lawmaker belonging to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has filed a contempt petition against Rahul alleging that he attributed his personal remarks to the top court. The case will come up for hearing on Monday (April 15).

Like Rahul’s ‘chor’ jibe, another snarky remark used by the opposition against Modi is ‘chaiwala’ (tea-seller) mocking his humble origins. It was first used by veteran Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar against Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat, during the 2014 national election campaign.

Aiyar bluntly told Modi that he was welcome to set up a tea shop near the Congress party headquarters and serve tea to party leaders during meetings.

Echoing Aiyar, Badruddin Ajmal, chief of the Assam-based All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) party, said on Saturday (April 13) that after losing the elections, Modi should sell tea and ‘pakodas’ (snacks).

Addressing a rally in Rampur on Sunday (April 14), Samajwadi Party candidate Azam Khan insulted and humiliated his rival BJP candidate
Jayaprada by saying she wears ‘khaki underwear’.

The National Commission for Women will issue a notice to him and has urged the Election Commission to ban him from contesting the elections. Ironically, Samajwadi Party, one of the leading partners in the opposition alliance, gives priority to ‘respect for women’ in its election manifesto.

BJP leaders are one step ahead in poll code violations.

In a video, Women and Child Welfare Minister Maneka Gandhi, Rahul’s aunt, tells a gathering of Muslim community members that they will not get any help from her if they vote against her and she returns to power.  The Election Commission (EC) has issued her a show-cause notice.

In another incident, Sakshi Maharaj, a Hindu monk and BJP candidate, warned a gathering in Kanpur that he would curse the families of those who do not vote for him.

Eshwarappa, a BJP leader from Karnataka, said members of minority communities have been denied candidature as they are “not loyal to the country.”

Earlier, BJP Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath called the Indian army ‘Modi’s sena’ (army). The EC sent him a show-cause notice.

Rajasthan governor Kalyan Singh, who is expected to be apolitical, sought votes for Modi. EC has complained to the President who has to act now.

Bahujan Samaj Party chief and former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Mayawati asked all Muslims to vote for her party. She too was served with a show-cause notice.

On Sunday, 21 Opposition parties met EC questioning the reliability of electronic voting machines and seeking a return to ballot papers. The team was led by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu.

Andhra Pradesh witnessed heavy polling on April 11. Is Naidu fearing that rival YSR Congress may beat his party? EC had already made it clear to Opposition parties that it will not return to ballot papers.

The Election Commission of India has laid out a model code of conduct for candidates. If rules are still violated, it has to punish the errant candidates.

India’s electoral process has been by and large free and fair. EC has to be ruthless to maintain that.