April 30: The Gujarat administration today lodged an FIR against Narendra Modi on the Election Commission’s directive for allegedly trying to “influence” voters by holding a news conference near a polling booth where he predicted the end of the “mother-son government” and displayed the BJP’s symbol.
The poll panel took the stern step on a day Gujarat recorded its highest-ever turnout — 62 per cent — in a parliamentary election. The charges brought against Modi, who is accused of violating the model code of conduct, carry a maximum punishment of two years in jail and a fine.
After casting his vote in Ahmedabad this morning, Modi came out of the polling station and addressed the media conference, holding a cutout of the lotus, the BJPs symbol. The party’s candidate for Prime Minister also clicked a selfie on his cellphone, prominently displaying the party symbol, which he posted in Twitter. He held up his finger to show the ink mark.
“I can say that this time, nothing can save the mother-son government,” Modi said. “A strong government will come to power,” the Gujarat chief minister added.
The Election Commission said Modi’s speech and the display of the lotus symbol were “intended” to “influence and affect” polling not only in Gujarat but also in other parts of the country that voted today.
“From the substance, tone and tenor of the address made by Sh. Modi and the statements made by him and the manner in which the symbol ‘Lotus’ of the BJP was being displayed… it is evident that the said address was in the nature of a political speech intended and calculated to influence and affect the result of elections in the constituencies going to polls today,” the EC said.
The commission dubbed “phenomenal” the voter turnout in Gujarat, which recorded a 15 per cent jump over the figure in 2009. The turnout that year was 47.89 per cent.
The higher turnout fuelled speculation that there was a “surge” in favour Modi. In Vadodara, one of the two seats Modi is contesting, the turnout was 70 per cent, much above the state average.
The Election Commission directed the state administration to lodge an FIR against Modi on the basis of complaints by the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party. The parties alleged that Modi’s media conference amounted to canvassing and it violated the model code of conduct.
According to the poll panel, Modi had violated “Sections 126(1) (a) and 126(1) (b) of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951”. The commission also directed that FIRs be lodged against the TV channels that telecast the media conference.
“The commission directs under Article 324 of the Constitution (which vests in the poll panel the superintendence, direction and control of elections) and other legal provisions… that complaints/FIR, as the case may be, should be filed against Sh. Narendra Modi and all others who were involved in the convening and holding of the said meeting,” the commission statement said.
Gujarat director-general of police P.C. Thakur told The Telegraph that cases had been registered under Sections 126(a) and 126(1) (b) of the act. According to the two provisions, no person can convene or hold meetings or propagate any election-related matter while the poll process is on.
The BJP defended Modi’s interaction with journalists, saying the news conference was not planned and that the media had not been invited.
“We respect the Election Commission, but Mr Modi did not violate the code of conduct,” BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi said in Delhi.
According to Election Commission norms, a candidate is liable to be booked for model code violation if he or she canvasses within a radius of 100 metres of a polling booth.