They did what they do every year — participate with enthusiasm in Ramnavami celebrations. But, they didn’t do what they knew would earn the EC’s ire this poll year — turn religious sentiments into votes.
While most leaders, including the chief minister and the sitting Congress MP, graced festivities in Ranchi with their presence on Tuesday, they refrained from any form of canvassing under the watchful eyes of the district election watchdog.
Till the filing of this report, Hemant Soren and Subodh Kant Sahay were spotted near Albert Ekka Chowk. Many small-time political leaders were also seen taking part in processions, but none dared to woo devotees, at least on camera.
Mahila Congress’s Jharkhand unit president Abha Sinha led a team of sword-wielding women in the heart of the capital. Mohalla workers of BJP, JMM, RJD, Ajsu and JVM were heard hollering “Jai Sree Ram, Jai Sree Ram” as dhakis from Bengal’s Purulia district drummed up a festive mood.
An enthusiastic group of devotees carried a 50ft Hanuman flag as they piloted a procession towards Ram Janki Tapovan Mandir. They shouted “Ram Lakhan Janki, Jai Bolo Hanuman Ki”.
Not a single poll slogan was heard, not a single political banner spotted.
Observers deployed by the EC naturally were at ease. “They are mere Congress workers in celebratory mood. Let them go,” a lensman was overheard telling his assistant near Kali Mandir, a stone’s throw from Albert Ekka Chowk.
The model code of conduct allows politicians and candidates to participate in religious functions as long as they don’t make any inflamatory speech or garner for support.
A handful of leaders, however, exercised extra caution.
Former Assembly Speaker and BJP leader C.P. Singh was expected to attend the Ramnavami rally at Albert Ekka Chowk, but he did not. “The EC’s code of conduct is in force. So, I ignored the invitation,” he said.
Hemant was expected to address devotees on Main Road, but he refrained from taking centre stage.
Volunteers of akharas in the city suggested that RJD leaders Krishna Yadav and Jai Singh Yadav and trade union leader Uday Shankar Ojha, who had contested the last Assembly elections as a Lok Janshakti Party candidate, were also very active during the festivities on Tuesday. Although pictures of Ojha were seen in some posters, they had no vote appeal lines.
In Jamshedpur, 28 flying squads, formed by the East Singhbhum district administration to keep tabs on money misuse in the runup to the Lok Sabha elections, has been entrusted with the additional responsibility of keeping hawk’s eye on the festivities.
Ten teams have also been constituted to videorecord activities of candidates at major akharas and during the Ramnavami rally on Wednesday.