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Appetite for ministers alive

New Delhi, Feb. 29: T.N. Seshan had politicians for breakfast and J.M. Lyngdoh preferred them for primetime snack. Today, their successor T.S. Krishnamurthy had ministers for lunch.

Taking a detour while announcing the general election schedule, the chief election commissioner expressed “surprise and shock” at statements made by “certain ministers” about a ban on political advertisements on television.

Krishnamurthy said the poll panel was merely implementing a law enacted by Parliament in 1995, contradicting information and broadcasting minister Ravishankar Prasad’s statement on Friday that commission had imposed the ban.

The ban with immediate effect had raised eyebrows because it hit the Opposition the hardest as the government could go on projecting its achievements until the code of conduct kicked in today.

If Prasad was caught on the wrong foot, so was deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani. A few hours before the chief election commissioner set the record straight, Advani said en route to Bangalore: “We would have liked it if the EC had held discussions with political parties in the matter but now it has decided… we welcome it.”

Krishnamurthy did not pull any punches today. “How are certain ministers making statements' Even journalists did not verify facts. There have been gross misstatements that the commission acted irresponsibly.”

The poll panel chief said the commission had responded to a communication from the information and broadcasting ministry seeking dos and don’ts on advertisements on television.

The commission had replied that clause 7(3) of the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994, prescribed under Section 6 (advertisement code) of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, prohibits advertisements of political nature on cable television networks.

But Prasad had announced that the Election Commission had banned the advertisements. The minister was not available for comment but officials said he had been “wrongly briefed”.

Krishnamurthy’s blunt rejoinder carries echoes of a trend set by Seshan, whose expression of culinary preference capped a series of high-voltage skirmishes with politicians.

Krishnamurthy’s immediate predecessor Lyngdoh was no less sparing and had rankled politicians by making uncharitable remarks during a television interview.

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