May 5: Former election commissioner S.Y. Qureshi today questioned the “silence” of the poll panel, asking why it had not initiated action against the organiser of the Faizabad rally where Narendra Modi repeatedly invoked Lord Ram in his campaign speech.
A model of the proposed Ram Mandir formed the backdrop of the stage from which the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate addressed voters.
“The use of religion in election rally and speeches to garner votes is not allowed and action should be taken against those found to be indulging in corrupt practice by seeking votes in the name of religion,” Qureshi told The Telegraph.
Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray was banned from voting and contesting elections for six years on this ground.
A senior poll panel official in Delhi said the Uttar Pradesh electoral officer had been asked to seek a report from the Faizabad district authorities.
“We are not silent and are closely observing the situation. Our officials are on the job and a notice will be sent to the organisers of the rally and to the BJP by tomorrow,” the official in Delhi said.
Qureshi said the Election Commission should collect all the evidence, including CDs and footage from television news channels. “Why are they keeping silent? They should collect all the evidence and take cognisance of this if they find that rules were violated,” he said.
On July 17, 1999, then President K.R. Narayanan had issued a notification under the Representation of People Act (RPA) barring Thackeray from contesting elections or voting after he was found guilty of seeking votes for a Sena nominee in the name of religion during a 1986 Assembly bypoll.
The Congress’s Prabhakar Kunte, who lost the byelection in Vile Parle to Sena’s Ramesh Prabhu, had filed a petition in Bombay High Court with recordings of three campaign speeches in which Thackeray sought votes in the name of religion.
The court set aside Prabhu’s election on the ground that Thackeray had indulged in corrupt practices under the provisions of RPA by invoking religion to seek votes.
The Sena appealed in the Supreme Court, which upheld the high court order and convicted Thackeray of corrupt electoral practices. On December 11, 1995, it advised the President to debar him from contesting or voting in the elections for six years.
The President referred the matter to the Election Commission’s two-member bench of M.S. Gill and J.M. Lyngdoh. The bench sent its recommendation to the President on September 22, 1998.
The President issued a gazette notification debarring Thackeray with retrospective effect from December 11, 1995, to December 10, 2001.
Following the notification, the Maharashtra Election Commission deleted Thackeray’s name from the voters’ list in Mumbai. Though he never contested elections, the Sena chief could vote only in the April 2004 Lok Sabha elections. He could not vote in the February 2002 Brihanmumbai Municipal Elections because the electoral rolls were prepared in November 2001.
Cong slams Modi
The Congress today strongly objected to the display of Lord Ram on the backdrop of Modi’s Faiazabad stage and lodged a complaint with the Election Commission, demanding an FIR against all the leaders on the dais including the BJP mascot.
The party described him as a habitual offender, referring to the FIR filed against Modi on April 30 for holding a news conference near a polling booth and displaying the lotus symbol, in violation of the law. Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said: “An FIR was lodged against him barely a few days ago. His behaviour is in tune with his culture, the consistent unbroken chain of attack on the EC starting from James Michael Lyngdoh. This has been done in tandem with violations by his agent in Uttar Pradesh, Amit Shah, categorising a whole community as terrorist.”
Amit Shah had yesterday said Azamgarh is a base for terrorists.
Singhvi continued: “The object of these statements is to create divisions and polarise voters using cheap politics. Modi too said those who do not worship Goddess Durga would be expelled from India. Lord Ram and Goddess Durga are reverential figures for us but the BJP use them as electoral fodder.”
The Congress also described Modi’s attack on the Election Commission — he had yesterday dared it to file another case against him — as a clear sign of frustration caused by the fear of defeat.