The Election Commission was recently criticised by the media, transparency activists and opposition parties for its delay in not taking action on complaints of Model Code of Conduct violations by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Thereafter, it was also accused of deliberately not uploading the complaints or its orders on them on its website. The matter was even raised in the Supreme Court.
Earlier this month, the poll panel finally relented and uploaded the details on its site.
But even now, in its uploaded orders, the EC has made an exception for the prime minister: It has put out the replies sent to the complainants, but not the details of the reports of the respective district or state election officials or area police officers.
As a result, it has been difficult for the complainants and others to understand the grounds on which the poll panel has exonerated Modi.
Four quick clean chits for the PM
Recently, the issue was flagged when the EC gave four “clean chits” in quick succession to Modi. Mahendra Singh, president of the West Bengal Forum for Mental Health, who had accused the PM of political propaganda by talking about armed forces repeatedly, stated that “complainants and other citizens would never know on what grounds ECI overruled state official findings unless ECI itself uploads its order or SC in its wisdom directs ECI to give the grounds of its decision”.
To that extent, the recent uploading of orders has also not helped.
EC did not reveal details of ‘clean-chits’, claimed replies sent to complainants
After it disposed of complaints filed by the Congress and others against Modi, the EC defended its decision to not make their content public, saying it was sending replies to the complainants.
As of May 10 evening, the MCC Complaint page of the EC website had the details of 507 complaints.
An analysis of the orders of the EC on its website reveals that this was more or less an exception than a rule. The EC usually provides the details of the state election officers’ report in its order.
EC data reveals it has been generally very transparent, made an exception for Modi
A look at just the first two cases on the list itself shows that EC has not shied away from sharing details in other matters.
At Serial No. 1, is a complaint filed on May 4 in Chandigarh. The “gist of the case” states that “the Social Media Cell of the District Media Certification and Monitoring has observed that BSP Candidate used social media in which children are holding party flag during the campaign rally.”
Under “Special Comment”, the poll panel said, “The show cause notice was issued to the violator of MCC. The matter was examined after receiving reply and warning was issued to Sh. Praveen Kumar Taank to not to use the children for election work, as per the guidelines in any manner.”
A click on “Download Complaint Details” reveals a scan of the report of the media and monitoring panel as also a letter written by EC secretary in 2017 on “engagement of child labour”.
The “Download Decision Report” leads to the show cause notice and other trail mails in the matter.
Even on complaints against other BJP leaders, EC provided information
Similarly at Serial No. 2 is another complaint from Chandigarh – this time against a BJP leader.
Here too the “gist of the case” provides certain details like how “Social Media Cell of the District Media Certification and Monitoring has observed that BJP Candidate used social media in which children are citing slogans ‘Vote for Kirron Kher, Ab ki Baar Modi Sarkar’ for Election Campaigning”.
And the “Special Comment” mentions that “The show cause notices were issued to the violators of MCC. The matter was examined after receiving replies and warnings were issued to Smt. Kirron Kher and Sh. Maheshinder Singh Sidhu to not to use the children for election work, as per the guidelines in any manner.”
A download of the complaint details here leads to a list of documents. Likewise, a download of the “Decision Details” also provides eight pages of relevant documents.
So, it can be clearly seen that the EC has generally been very transparent in providing details of the complaints under investigation.
EC also differentiated between Amit Shah and Modi
Even in a case against BJP president Amit Shah (Serial No. 229), in which Gujarat PCC leader Manish Doshi lodged a complaint of an MCC violation against him on April 2 for taking out a rally in Ahmedabad, the EC in its decision provided details of the case.
The decision report carries a two-page letter sent to the CEO, General Administration Department (Election Division), Gandhinagar by District Election Officer and Collector of Ahmedabad. Though this letter stated that there was “no violation of MCC”, it provided details of the response sought and sent by Assistant Returning Officers of Ghatlodiya and Naranapura; the Police Commissioner, Ahmedabad City; and Chief Nodal Officer, MCC.
Different yardstick for Modi
For Modi’s cases, the EC appears to have adopted a different yardstick. There are six cases in which his name figures. Five of these are direct complaints, while one is about Rajasthan governor Kalyan Singh seeking votes for him.
In all these cases, the EC has not shared any report of any state or district election officer with its decision.
Serial No. 83. This was a complaint by Commodore (Retd.) Lokesh K. Batra. It pertains to the “politicisation of activities of armed forces for vote gains”. In the attachment, Batra also sent a picture of a BJP hoarding with Modi that had the message “Dushman kay ghar main ghuskar, aatankiyon par prahar, phi red baar Modi sarkar”.
The order by EC on May 6 nowhere mentioned Modi but just said “the alleged advertisements enclosed by you do not violate the Commission’s instructions or advisory regarding use of photographs propaganda using or activities of armed forces”. It was accompanied by a copy of the two EC advisories issued in the matter on March 9 and March 19 respectively.
Serial No. 130: This was a complaint filed by the All India Congress Committee on April 12. The ‘gist’ said it pertained to Modi and was “about alleged violation of the advisories and the Model Code of Conduct in a speech given on 09/04/2019 at Ausa, District – Latur, Maharashtra”. This is where Modi appealed to first-time voters to vote in the name of the Pulwama martyrs and the Balakot braves.
The case detail was brief and the decision report sent by EC secretary to AICC communication department in-charge Randeep Surjewala stated that a detailed report from Maharashtra CEO was obtained but did not provide its details. It also held that there was no MCC violation.
Serial No. 152: This complaint against Modi too was lodged by AICC on April 12. The ‘gist’ stated the “alleged violation of the advisories and the Model Code of Conduct in a speech given on 06/04/2019 at Nanded, Maharashtra”. In this case, Modi had attacked Congress president Rahul Gandhi for choosing Wayanad in Kerala as his second seat, saying “Seat bhi aisi jahan par desh kimajority minority mein hai”.
The letter from the EC to Surjewala in this case was delivered on May 3. It too said that the Maharashtra CEO’s report has been obtained, but did not provide its contents. The matter was again disposed off with the decision being that there was no MCC violation.
Serial No. 245: This was also a complaint by AICC against Modi for his April 1 speech in Wardha, Maharashtra. The “Complaint Detail” stated that it pertained to “hate speeches” by Modi and Shah. In Wardha, Modi had accused Congress of labelling peace-loving Hindus as terrorists.
In the “Decision Report”, the EC only put out a copy of a letter sent to Surjewala on April 30 which stated that in response to his complaint about a speech delivered by Modi at Wardha on April 1, the comments of the CEO, Maharashtra were sought. However the Commission did not find it to be in violation of the MCC.
Serial No. 342: This was a complaint lodged by the CPI(M) against Modi on March 27, pertaining to his “address to the nation on electronic media” following the anti-satellite (ASAT) test.
The “complaint detail” referred to a letter sent by former Secretary in government of India, E.A.S. Sarma in which he wrote about the EC ignoring blatant cases of violation of MCC. He noted that when a governor of a state spoke the language of a political party, the EC did not take any action. Sarma also mentioned how the Vice-Chairman of Niti Aayog, who draws a salary from government, had made political comments. He also insisted that the PM spoke about ASAT missile launch for drawing political mileage, and a CM refused to bring the state’s intelligence wing under the EC’s oversight and yet the poll panel did nothing.
The “decision report” mentioned that a letter was sent by principal secretary (EC) to CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury on March 29. It said a committee was constituted to examine his March 27 complaint about and that its report was enclosed. But the report of the this committee, on the basis of which the complaint was disposed of, has not been uploaded by EC on the website.
Serial No 386
This was a complaint filed against Rajasthan governor Kalyan Singh on March 24 in Aligarh. The ‘gist’ of the case said that during an interaction with the media, he had “praised BJP and said Modiji should be re-elected as PM.”
The case has still not been decided. The “complaint details” also only provide a vague WhatsApp page capture and reveal nothing.