The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Slander show before poll curtain call
- Cong distributes Judeo bribe disks while Sangh outfit dubs Jogi ‘servant of Madam’

Raipur, Nov. 29: One of the most vicious election campaigns drew to a close in Chhattisgarh today, but not before the Election Commission issued a warning to all political parties and asked them to behave.

The warning came a little late in the day with chief electoral officer K.K. Chakravarty calling a meeting of all political parties and asking them to desist from defamatory, communal and slanderous campaigning.

The Congress was pulled up for allegedly distributing compact disks showing BJP leader and former central minister Dilip Singh Judeo accepting money from strangers.

The party is also being accused of distributing audio cassettes containing salacious conversation between a prominent leader of the Opposition and an unidentified lady. Similar posters and pamphlets, the Opposition alleged, were distributed in large numbers by the ruling party.

But, while it will be difficult for the Opposition to attribute the disks and the cassettes to the Congress, the BJP was rapped by the Election Commission for issuing advertisements in poor taste and containing communal innuendoes and unsubstantiated charges against chief minister Ajit Jogi and his son.

In one of the more blatant advertisements, issued by an affiliate body of the Sangh parivar, Jogi has been described as an agent of the Pope and a “servant of Madam”.

In another advertisement, Jogi and his son have been described as “captains of 420” giving a bad name to Chhattisgarh.

In one advertisement, Jogi has been described as “dhongi (pretender)” and shown crawling under a table with his son in braces wielding the stick.

Both the Congress and the BJP appear guilty of violating the model code of conduct.

The Election Commission has received several complaints alleging misuse of government facilities and public servants by the Congress for campaigning. Both the parties are suspected to have spent much more than the permissible limit.

The Election Commission has been hamstrung by the shortage of personnel and logistics. Till the election was notified, the chief electoral officer, an additional chief secretary-level officer, was looking after half a dozen additional departments.

The election office itself came up barely a month ago. And, though the Election Commission has pressed into service more than 62 poll observers as well as a dozen helicopters and satellite phones, the task of monitoring the expenditure and campaigns in the state — in which 367 polling stations can be reached only by walking between 5 and 55 km — was uphill from the outset.

Election Commission observers point out that while the law lays down that a candidate cannot spend more than Rs 10 lakh on his campaign, there is no such limit on the party. And, though expenditure by political parties is to be apportioned to different candidates, the exercise is not just complicated but also time-consuming and cumbersome.

Political parties are expected to submit an expenditure certificate every third day and the candidates expected to file expenditure returns within one month of polling.

But verifying the claims is a problem that the Election Commission has not been able to resolve, admit observers.

Moreover, while the parties are to declare all expenditures of more than Rs 20,000, most expenditure can be split into smaller amounts. Similarly, parties can also claim that small donations made by party sympathisers accounted for campaigns without their control.

Election officials here point out that although declarations filed by candidates about their moveable and immovable assets were publicised and delivered to all political parties, media and non-governmental organisations, the commission has not received a single counter affidavit challenging any of the declarations. Unless civil society exercises some control, as is clear in the Chhattisgarh poll, the commission and the codes can be defied.

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