“The basic object of the Right to Information Act is to empower the citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the working of the government, contain corruption, and make our democracy work for the people in real sense.” - Right To Information Act, 2005
The RTI Act designated a Public Information Officer (PIO) for the citizens to get access to the required information in accordance with the provisions of the Act in October 2005. But contradicting the terms of the Act and lacking transparency, the Election Commission of India (EC) divulged selective information to people.
The Quint filed an RTI with the EC seeking information on Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa’s note of dissent on the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) violation complaint against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speeches in Latur (Maharashtra), Barmer (Rajasthan), Patan (Gujarat) and Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) during the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections.
In response to my RTI, the PIO shared documents on the file noting of the MCC violation probe, conducted in connection with PM’s speech in Varanasi. But he refused to share the file noting in connection with PM Narendra Modi’s speeches in Latur, Barmer and Patan citing section 8 (1) (g) of RTI Act, 2005, ie, “information, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person”.
But the question is – whose life will be in danger if the file noting is made public? Secondly, why is the EC’s PIO comfortable in sharing information in connection with PM Narendra Modi’s MCC violation during his Varanasi speech, but not the other three?
“It seems very mysterious and hard to believe that a dissent note of an Election Commissioner can put somebody’s life in danger.”Jagdeep Chhokar, Member, Association for Democratic Reforms
Did the EC share information regarding the Varanasi MCC violation probe because Lavasa did not make any dissenting remark in this particular case?
“Sharing file noting of one case out of four obviously raises doubts about what has been prevented from coming to the public domain. These proceedings of the constitutional body needs to be available for the people to see.”Jagdeep Chhokar, Member, Association for Democratic Reforms
Why Lavasa’s Dissent Note Is So Crucial?
In the first week of May it was reported that Lavasa had dissented in three MCC complaints against PM Narendra Modi. He later wrote a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora saying he would like to recuse himself from all MCC meetings until his demand for inclusion of minority decisions in the final orders of the commission is met.
But EC issued a statement saying that dissenting opinions will not be made part of its order though it will remain part of official records and file noting.
On this matter, the former Chief Election Commissioner SY Qureshi said to the media, “it is painful to see that the political parties and its leaders are violating the MCC, and instead of they being in the dock, it is the ECI which is at the receiving end.”
PM Narendra Modi Mentions Balakot Airstrike in Latur
PM Modi urged first-time voters in Latur on 9 April to dedicate their votes to soldiers who conducted the Balakot airstrike – which resulted in the MCC violation complaint against him.
“Mein zara kehna chhahta hoon mera first-time voteron ko. Kya aapka pehla vote Pakistan ke Balakot mein airstrike karnewale veer jawanon ke naam samarpit ho sakta hai kya. Mein mere first-time voter se kehna chhahta hoon ki aapka pehla vote Pulwama mein jo veer shahid hue hain un veer shahidon ke naam aapka vote samarpit ho sakta hai kya.” (I want to ask my first-time voters, can your first vote be dedicated to the soldiers who conducted the Balakot air strikes? Can your first vote be in the name of the martyrs who lost their lives in Pulwama).
Pakistan Forced to Release Wing Commander Abhinandan: PM Modi in Patan
PM Narendra Modi spoke about Wing Commander Abhinandan on 21 April on the basis of which MCC violation complaint was filed in EC.
“Ek Vareeshth amriki adhikari ne Pakistan ko doosre din kaha ki Modi ne 12 missile taiyyar rakhi hai, hamla ho sakta hai, sthiti bigad jayegi. Pakistan ne doosre din ghoshna kar di, agar Pakistan Abhinandan ko nahi lautaata toh woh qatl ki raat hoti” (A senior American Officer said on the second day that Modi has kept 12 missiles ready for an attack and the situation will deteriorate if Pakistan does not return Wing Commander Abhinandan to India post the Balakot confrontation. Pakistan announced the return of the pilot. Else it would have resulted in carnage).
“Humne press conference kiya aur Pakistan ko aagaah kiya agar hamare pilot ke saath kuch bhi hua to aap duniya bhar me batate rahenge ki aapke saath Modi ne kya kiya” (We held a press conference and warned Pakistan that if anything happened to our pilot, you will keep telling the world what Modi did to you).
“Congress ki netaon ko Sena pe bharosa nahi hai. Uri Pulwama attack me aatanki hamla hua to Kendra sarkaaar ne sena ko khuli chhooth de di. Pehle surgical strike phir airstrike kar aatankiyon ke adde nasht kiye. Congress neta sena ki kaaryawahi par bhi saboot maangte hai” (Congress has no faith in the Indian Army. The Central Government gave free hand to the armed forces after Uri and Pulwama attack. We carried out surgical strike against terrorists and destroyed their hideouts. Congress leaders demanded evidence from armed force for the same).
PM Narendra Modi’s Speech In Barmer
Here is the excerpt of PM Modi’s speech delivered in Rajasthan’s Barmer on 21 April on which EC conducted MCC violation probe.
“Bharat ne Pakistan ki dhamkiyon se darne ki neeti ko chhod diya varna aaye din bolte rehte the...hamare paas nuclear button hai...hamare paas nuclear button hai...toh hamare paas kya hai bhai...kya humne isse Diwali ke liye rakha hai.” (Every other day Pakistan used to say we have nuclear button, we have nuclear button. What do we have then? Have we kept it for Diwali?)
PM Modi’s Varanasi Speech Mentions Pulwama Attack But Has Not Sought Votes: EC
On 26 April, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala filed a complaint with EC against PM Modi’s speech in Varanasi (delivered on 25 April 2019) citing “brazen violations of the electoral laws governing and prohibiting the use of personnel for malicious propaganda/campaign purposes”.
While addressing a public gathering in Varanasi on 25 April, PM Narendra Modi said,
“Pulwama mein unhone hamare 40 jawano ko shaheed kiya tha, iss hamle ke baad usi kshetra mein ab tak 42 aatankwadiyon ko thikaane lagaya ja chuka hai. Yeh hamara kaam karne ka tareeka hai (They martyred 40 of our brave soldiers in Pulwama. Following this we have killed 42 terrorists in that region. This is the way we work).”
Surjewala also complained against PM Narendra Modi’s interview to Aaj Tak news channel which was aired on 26 April. In the interview Modi said,
“Main kitna hi bhashan karta hun...duniya ke gale nahi utaarunga...jab maine wahan jaakar aatankwadiyon ko maara toh unki musibat ye hain na wo bol bhi paate hain.. na wo nakaar bhi sakte hain (When I went there and killed the terrorists then they (Pakistan) could neither confirm nor deny the same).”
“This statement has to be viewed in the context of his incessant earlier statements. In fact, the entire 2019 campaign of the BJP has been built on the twin pillars of religious invective and coopting the achievements of the armed forces,” said Surjewala in the complaint.
The RTI reply reveals that PM Modi’s Varanasi speech was given a clean chit as he did not seek votes in the name of Pulwama or terrorist attack. The EC’s internal file noting, which was signed by Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, Ashok Lavasa and others, says,
“It may be submitted that Shri Narendra Modi’s speech and interview have some mention of Terrorist attacks including the one in Pulwama and a reference to Pakistan but he has not sought votes through it. Therefore, it cannot be held as a political propaganda in context of the advisory dated 19.03.2019.”
On 19 March 2019, the EC issued a general advisory to all political parties saying that they are “advised that their campaigners/candidates should desist, as part of their election campaigning, from indulging in any political propaganda involving activities of the defence forces”.
“Every speech should be seen in totality and not sentence by sentence.”Jagdeep Chhokar, Member, Association for Democratic Reforms
We approached former Chief Election Commissioners OP Rawat and SY Qureshi, for their comments. Both of them refused to give a statement. The Quint has filed an appeal on this RTI and this copy will be updated with the response.