The Election Commission on Friday warned the BJP against causing incitement through social media posts after an image of Congress leader Harish Rawat was morphed with that of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, founder of the campus that became Aligarh Muslim University.
Sir Syed was an institution builder, philosopher and reformer but in the toxic political discourse of the day, his Muslim identity is sufficient to ensure that any comparison of a Hindu politician to him can be divisive.
Rawat, leading the Congress campaign in Uttarakhand, had got sucked into a sectarian controversy after Akil Ahmad — a former Congress rebel who has returned to the party — claimed to have asked him for a Muslim university in Sahaspur, a town with a large minority population.
The BJP immediately accused the Congress of “appeasing” Muslims with something as dangerous as education.
The party’s Uttarakhand-in-charge, Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga — who had assaulted legal activist Prashant Bhushan in 2011 — tweeted a meme opposing any such varsity. The meme contained an image of Rawat morphed to make him look like Sir Syed, and referred to the Congress politician as “Harishuddin”.
The Congress, which denies Akil’s claim, complained to the poll panel, which found that the BJP had violated the first two paragraphs of the Model Code of Conduct. These paragraphs prohibit any attempt to aggravate “existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic”, and “criticism of other parties or their workers based on unverified allegations or distortion”.
The Election Commission has warned the BJP’s state unit “to be more careful in future” and advised it “to follow all the provisions of the Model Code of Conduct and other guidelines of the commission in letter and spirit”.
Article 30 of the Constitution gives religious and linguistic minorities the right to establish and run their educational institutions and receive government grants.
However, the minority status of Aligarh Muslim University and Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia — established by Muslims but now run by the Centre — are subjects of litigation. The Narendra Modi government has opposed the minority status of both universities in court.