Uphold poll law, set an example

Narendra Modi appeared to showing disdain for the country’s election laws

Through his recent conduct, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi appears to be showing disdain for the country’s election laws. No one expected a man leading his party’s election campaign to step out of the polling booth after voting and address what was patently a press conference in violation of the law.

More, throughout his 20-minute media interaction Mr Modi conspicuously twirled his party’s poll symbol for all to see. The scene was flashed on television screens across the country. The Representation of the People Act prohibits campaigning and propaganda 48 hours before polling and on polling day so that voters may have the opportunity to make a considered choice. Someone in as high a position as Mr Modi is expected to be acquainted with this basic law when even minor functionaries are fully aware of it.

Moving swiftly, the Election Commission asked the Gujarat authorities to file an FIR against the Gujarat CM. If convicted, the BJP’s star could face a jail term of two years and be barred from contesting elections for a certain period. We hope this does not come to pass as that can create potential chaos in the country and plunge us into a state of grave political disequilibrium.

It has to be said nevertheless that the PM candidate of the principal Opposition party has shown not the least remorse for flagrantly violating the law. Addressing a rally in Andhra Pradesh, he instead mocked the EC by saying that a FIR had been filed against him not for flashing a knife or a gun but for showing the lotus flower (the BJP’s symbol).

Such a petty formulation and attempted trivialisation of the issue, and disregard of a constitutional body such as the EC, detracts from the position of dignity and responsibility which the BJP has offered Mr Modi. As for the FIR and the processes that follow, we hope the court accepts the preliminary finding of the Gujarat police that the CM was more than 100 metres from the polling station when he addressed the media. While canvassing itself is strictly forbidden, the distance factor too is said to count.

In the age of round-the-clock television and high-pitched social media activity, the law regarding the 48-hour canvassing ban does seem more than a touch outdated. The Parliament should move to suitably amend it, or to scrap it. However, all responsible citizens, not just top public figures, are expected to observe legal requirements, even if these appear old-fashioned. To not do so opens the floodgates for flouting norms and offers an alibi to habitual wrong-doers. Important politicians should be setting an example.

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