Monday, 30th October 2017

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Code-breach heat on poll body

Calcuttan takes on Narendra Modi for army reference

By Sudeshna Banerjee in Calcutta
  • Published 26.04.19, 1:44 AM
  • Updated 26.04.19, 1:44 AM
  • 3 mins read
Mahendra Singh Telegraph picture

 For over a fortnight now, a Calcuttan has been knocking on the doors of the Election Commission of India (ECI) to draw its attention to an alleged violation of the model code of conduct by the Prime Minister in using the armed forces in his election speeches.

Frustrated with his constant reminders not bearing fruit and his complaint dismissed as “resolved”, Mahendra Singh lodged two complaints against the poll panel itself for violating the model code.

The commission offered to “rectify” the situation on Wednesday but all it has done is add a status line to Singh’s online complaint.

On April 9, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked first-time voters to dedicate their first votes to the Balakot air strike soldiers and the martyred Pulwama troopers, Singh, a 43-year-old resident of Sarat Bose Road who works in the mental health sector, had filed a complaint on the National Grievance Services portal of the election commission. He received an automated reply that specified the response time as two days.

When the period lapsed and the action-taken status of his complaint on the portal’s online tracker showed “default”, he sent a reminder each on April 12 and 13 by email and made several calls to the commission.

On April 15, a commission official called him. “The official explained to me that ‘default’ meant the commission had defaulted on the complaint by not taking action and promised to take up the matter with officials concerned. The same evening, I received a text message saying my case had been disposed of, asking me to log in. When I did, I found the action taken was described as ‘Report sent to ECI’ and the status had changed from ‘default’ to ‘resolved’ even as the Prime Minister continued referring to the army with impunity at every available opportunity on his campaign trail,” Singh said.

Singh has since sent two more reminders to the email addresses of the chief election commissioner and the deputy election commissioner, on April 16 and 18.

“What is even more surprising is my complaint has never been visible on the page dedicated to violations of the model code on the website that contained a list of 445 other complaints. I can see it only when I log into the portal with my ID,” Singh said.

By hiding his complaint and dragging feet over it, he said, the poll panel itself is violating the code of conduct. He quoted from page 227 of the Manual on model code, wherein under the subhead “Complaint Monitoring System” it was mentioned that the “poll-going states shall have a complaint redressal mechanism based on website and call center…. Complainants can also see the details of the action taken on their complaints…. All complaint should be dealt with promptly and properly.”

On April 20, he filed two complaints against poll panel on the National Grievance Services portal.

“This is extremely unfortunate,” he wrote, “that despite four reminders earlier… Election Commission of India has failed to take any action against the Prime Minister of India… for the blatant violation of Model Code of Conduct. This action of ECI is a violation of the Model Code of Conduct Guidelines issued by ECI itself.”

He cited a “general advisory to political parties” that the poll panel had issued on April 5. Signed by principal secretary Narendra N. Butalia, the advisory stated: “The candidates/ campaigners/political leaders are to desist from displaying photograph of defence personnel or photograph of functions involving defence personnel in advertisement or otherwise as part of their election propaganda / campaigning. They are also advised to desist from indulging in any political propaganda involving activities of defence forces.”

On Wednesday, asked about the “resolved” status of Singh’s complaint, a senior election commission official told PTI: “The status should have shown that the matter has been referred to Election Commission headquarters. But the entry reflected that the complaint as resolved... it is being rectified.” An explanation has been sought from the person concerned, the official added.

Alerted by Metro about the official’s statement, Singh checked on Thursday and found a new status line under the earlier one.

The “action taken” was still the same — “Report submitted to ECI”. The new status, “In progress”, was posted right under the old status “resolved”.

“The army has never been dragged into politics in 70 years’ history. This issue should have been taken up by the Opposition. Since they are not doing much, I decided to do this as a citizen. The day we lose the sanctity of the army or the election commission, we will be lost as a democracy,” said Singh.