The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Communal voices in Lyngdoh sights

New Delhi, Nov. 8: In a warning that could only have been aimed at Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and his supporters in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, J.M. Lyngdoh has said the Election Commission would “rigidly” enforce the law to punish those who made “communal” speeches.

“People who use that sort of language should be prosecuted. We have to hasten that process,” the chief election commissioner, who appeared on a television programme called Court Martial, said, asked how the poll panel will ensure free and fair franchise in a situation where interviews and statements take on communal overtones. Gujarat goes to polls on December 12.

The first paragraph of the poll panel’s model code of conduct lays down that no political party should carry out “activities” that arouse hatred or tension. It also bars them from seeking votes in the name of caste and religion. Lyngdoh emphasised that the commission would use its powers to send out warnings against such speeches and statements. “Yes, we will do that,” he said.

Lyngdoh, who had earlier shown his disapproval at the way Modi handled relief and rehabilitation work in the riot-scarred state, made it clear that nobody was above the law. Asked whether he was pointing a finger at people like VHP leader Praveen Togadia, he said: “It could be anybody. Whoever it is.” The commission, he emphasised, will closely monitor speeches.

Although the commission can only reprimand a party or candidate for violating the code of conduct, they can be prosecuted under the Indian Penal Code. According to the commission, the Representation of People’s Act also has provisions for penalising a party or candidate for triggering enmity and hatred between communities and citizens. The punishment could mean three-years’ imprisonment or a fine or both.

Lyngdoh made it clear the commission would do everything in its powers to rein in intemperate elements. Asked whether minorities were in a position to come out and vote, he said “I hope so” but underlined the need to provide polling arrangements for those still stranded in unofficial relief camps and for people who were forced to flee the state.

On whether the Modi government was complying with the commission’s directive to remove communal posters and hoardings, he said: “We interact with the civil administration and not the political executive.”

Lyngdoh brushed aside the BJP’s charge that he was a “Congress agent”. “It does not bother me at all,” he said, adding with a touch of contempt that people sometimes make ridiculous statements.

But he seemed to have angered more than one when former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah today threatened to sue him for his comment yesterday that there was an attempt to sabotage the elections, basically by the police. Even the Congress and the CPM demanded a probe, as the allegation was serious.

“If (the) CEC has said so he should substantiate it with evidence or else we will go for legal proceedings against him,” Abdullah told reporters in Jammu.

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