27 Cases, 1 Notice, No Action: What Did EC Do on Complaints Against PM Modi?

On 25 April, EC issued a notice to BJP over MCC violation by its "star campaigners" without naming PM Modi.

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Video Editor :Kriti Saxena
"I had warned you (EC) on 24 April that you have failed to do your duty properly. I accuse the Election Commission of being partial and biased" — BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi on 8 May 2014.

Since 2019, the Opposition parties have registered at least 27 complaints with the Election Commission of India (ECI) against Prime Minister Narendra Modi over allegations of Model Code of Conduct violations.

The EC, however, is yet to take concrete action in any of these cases. Copies of these complaints, seen by The Quint, include allegations of hate speech, using armed forces to seek votes, seeking votes in the name of religion, and using government ministries to prepare speeches for Prime Minister's election rallies among others.

In a first, the Commission, on 25 April, issued a notice to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President JP Nadda over speeches by its "star campaigner" which might be in the violation of the MCC.

Without naming the Prime Minister, the notice referred to complaints by Congress, CPI(M), and CPI(ML) Liberation as the basis of EC's action.

On 25 April, EC issued a notice to BJP over MCC violation by its "star campaigners" without naming PM Modi.
On 25 April, EC issued a notice to BJP over MCC violation by its "star campaigners" without naming PM Modi.

These complaints by the political parties against Prime Minister Modi alleged that in a communally-charged speech at a rally, he claimed that if voted to power, the Congress would distribute citizens’ property among “infiltrators”.

"When the Congress-led government was in power, they had said that Muslims have the first right over the country’s assets. This means that they will distribute wealth to those who have more children and those who are infiltrators. Is this acceptable to you?" the Prime Minister said in Rajasthan's Banswara district on Sunday, 21 April.

He added: "The Congress manifesto is saying that they will calculate the gold of the mothers and sisters, get information about it and then distribute it. Manmohan Singh’s government had said that Muslims have the first right on property. Brothers and sisters, these urban Naxal thoughts will not let even your mangalsutra escape, they will go this far.”

Section I(1) of the MCC states: No party or candidate shall include in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic.

The EC has asked BJP to respond to its notice by 29 April. Banswara, where the Prime Minister delivered the speech is scheduled to vote in the second phase of polling on Friday, 26 April.


Allegations of Communal Speeches, Use of Armed Forces to Seek Votes

The Quint analysed at least 27 complaints registered against the Prime Minister by Opposition parties since 2019.

  • Of these, 12 are over allegations of communally charged speeches,

  • Eight for using armed forces to ask for votes,

  • One for using government schemes in political advertisements,

  • One for seeking votes on grounds of religion,

  • One for using government ministries to prepare election speeches,

  • Two over a suspicious black box in PM's helicopter while campaigning,

  • One for using minors in campaigns,

  • And one for violation of the 'silence period' which prohibits campaigning before polling.

As per the Opposition parties, the poll body did not act on any of these complaints.

On 27 March 2019, Sitaram Yechury, General Secretary of CPI(M) wrote to the then Chief Election Commissioner regarding an announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his address to the nation after MCC came into force.

In his speech the Prime Minister had the successful test-firing of an anti-satellite missile by scientists of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). "Such a mission should normally be announced to the nation and to the world by the relevant scientific authorities like the DRDO. Instead, the Indian Prime Minister has taken the route of an address to the nation in making this announcement," Yechury said in his complaint.

He added, "This announcement comes in the midst of the ongoing election campaign where the Prime Minister himself is a candidate. This is clearly a violation of the Model Code of Conduct."

In response to the complaint, the EC set up a committee which on the basis of meetings with top Doordarshan and All India Radio officials concluded that "provisions regarding misuse of official mass media as contained in Para (IV) and Part (VII) of the Model Code of Conduct, is not attracted in the instant case."

The provision EC was referring to, states: Issue of advertisement at the cost of public exchequer in the newspapers and other media and the misuse of official mass media during the election period for partisan coverage of political news and publicity regarding achievements with a view to furthering the prospects of the party in power shall be scrupulously avoided.

In response to the EC's dismissal of the complaint, Yechury claimed that limiting the complaint to the issue of "misuse of official media" is a narrow interpretation of the complaint.

"The larger issue is that the Prime Minister as a candidate in the ensuing elections is using the office of the Prime Minister to convey a development achieved by our scientists during the election campaign. This constitutes a gross misuse of the office for furthering electoral objectives," Yechury wrote.

He added: "Soon after the speech, the Prime Minister is on record to claim that he is chowkidar not only on land and air but also in outer space."

There was no response from EC after this.


Election Commission and The Modi Years

The Election Commission is a constitutional body responsible for conducting free and fair elections in India. It is headed by a Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and consists of two other Election Commissioners. They are assisted by Directors General, Principal Secretaries, and Secretaries.

Since 1950, the Election Commission of India was a single member body with only the Chief Election Commissioner. The Election Commissioner Amendment Act, 1989, made the Commission a multi-member body with two additional election commissioners, who were appointed to the commission for the first time on 16 October 1989. On 1 January 1990, the posts of election commissioners were abolished again. Then on 1 October 1993, the Election Commission was once again made a three member body.

In December last year, the Indian parliament passed the Chief Election Commissioner and the Other Election Commissioners Act, 2023. As per section 7 of the Act, the President would appoint the CEC and the ECs on the recommendation of a selection committee comprising the prime minister as its chairperson, a Union Cabinet minister nominated by the prime minister, and the leader of the opposition as its member.

This law was passed after the Supreme Court had previously ordered that the CEC and the ECs be selected by a three-member Committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition (or the leader of the largest opposition party in Parliament), and the Chief Justice of India (CJI).

Before this, the CEC and ECs were being appointed by the President as stated in Article 324(2) of the Constitution of India "subject to any law made in that behalf by the Parliament, be made by the President."


Action Against Opposition Leaders

On April 21, former Maharashtra Chief Minister and Shiv Sena (UBT) Chief Uddhav Thackeray said he has received a notice from the Election Commission (EC) to remove the words "Jai Bhavani" and "Hindu" from his party's new anthem.

While refusing to abide by the order, he said, "If the poll body takes action against us, they will have to tell us what they did when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who while campaigning for the Karnataka assembly elections, had asked people to say Jai Bajrang Bali and press the button on EVMs. Amit Shah had told people to vote for the BJP to get Ram Lalla darshan for free in Ayodhya."

The Congress party on 4 May 2023 had even registered a complaint against the PM for invoking the name of Hanuman while campaigning in poll-bound Karnataka. "The Prime Minister in his address at public rallies spoke critically of the Congress party and in the melee attempted to portray the Congress party as anti-Hindu by taking the name of Lord Hanuman ie 'Jai Bajrangbali' only with the intention of soliciting votes for the BJP and urging people to not vote for Congress," the party said in its complaint.

No action was taken by EC in this regard.

In November 2023, the Election Commission had issued a show-cause notice to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi over his "panauti", "pickpocket" and "loan waiver for the super rich" jibes at PM Modi. In its notice, EC reminded Gandhi that the Model Code of Conduct prohibits leaders from making unverified allegations against political rivals.

Earlier that year, PM Modi targeted Congress for promising a ban the right-wing outfit Bajrang Dal in its manifesto for Karnataka elections and equated the ban with "locking up" Bajrangbali or Lord Hanuman. This is the speech that Thackeray referred to while refusing to abide by EC's notice.

Notices were also issued to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Chief Arvind Kejriwal over social media posts 'disparaging' the Prime Minister. The posts shared on the party's official handle featured Prime Minister Narendra Modi and industrialist Gautam Adani.

In 2019, the EC banned senior Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu from campaigning for 72 hours for remarks made by him which were seen in violation of the MCC. While addressing a poll rally in Bihar’s Katihar, the Punjab leader had said, “I will like to warn you Muslim brothers, they are dividing you by bringing people like Owaisi (AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi). They are raising a new party here, they want to divide and win."


'MCC Is a Moral Censor'

According to the Election Commission, as of 16 April, it was "broadly satisfied with the compliance of the code by political parties."

In a press release, the Commission said that it received approximately 200 complaints from various political parties, of which action was taken in 169 cases. "The breakup of complaints is: total complaints received from BJP were 51, out of which action has been taken in 38 cases; complaints from INC were 59, with action taken in 51 cases; complaints received from other parties were 90, out of which action has been taken in 80 cases," the release mentioned.

On 25 April, EC issued a notice to BJP over MCC violation by its "star campaigners" without naming PM Modi.

At the EC press conference to announce 2024 Lok Sabha polls, Ashlin Mathew, a journalist with National Herald, had previously asked the poll body about the difference in its approach towards dealing with complaints against members of BJP and those of Opposition parties.

"'ve said that the EC will ensure action against hate speech and that there will be a calibrated approach against code violations but there have been several complaints against the Prime Minister and (Home Minister) Amit Shah but the EC has not taken any action. But you have taken action against Opposition leaders. So even if there is a calibrated approach, will the Opposition leaders get picked up more or get more notices than those from the ruling party?" Mathew questioned.

In response, CEC Rajiv Kumar said, "If you look at the complaints we've received over the last 10-11 elections. After that look at the notices we've issued. After the parties respond to our notices, even there has been a violation of MCC, it's not like we've always acted in those cases. The MCC is a moral censor. If there is a case that comes against anybody, we will not sit back, no matter how big of a star campaigner that candidate is, we will not sit back."

(The Quint has reached out to the Election Commission for a comment on the story. It will be updated as and when we hear from them.)

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Topics:  Narendra Modi   BJP   Election Commission 

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