BJP’s attempts to communalise Bihar elections is diabolical and has left the party utterly exposed


Rifat Jawaid

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Faced with possible election defeat despite all its shenannigans, the BJP has once again resorted to its old tricks of whipping up communal tension to polarise voters in Bihar. In the party’s newspaper ads on Wednesday ahead of the crucial fifth and final phase of elections in Seemanchal area, the saffron brigade has taken the election campaign to a new low.

The BJP’s election ads include a message to voters reminding them of what the RJD chief Lalu Yadav and the Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah had reportedly said on beef soon after a Muslim man was lynched in Dadri on rumours that he ate and stored beef in his house.

BJP’s ads are wrong for two reasons. First it’s a clear violation of the election commission’s model code of conduct as these ads are designed to influence the voters in the period when the campaigning is prohibited. Secondly, the party’s decision to invoke the beef issue smacks of its diabolical agenda of dividing the country along communal lines. Today’s ads conclusively prove that hate politics perpetrated by the BJP and its affiliates have the approval of its top leadership and it’s no longer the handiwork of the so-called fringe elements.

It also amply highlights that the development was never the BJP’s agenda neither in the ongoing election campaign nor ever in the past.

BJP had resorted to similar dirty tricks even during the Delhi assembly elections and thankfully the educated voters in the capital had served the party a crushing defeat leaving them with just three MLAs. Hope voters in Bihar do the same for the party to learn that India of 2015 will not tolerate any attempts to divide the country through hate politics.

This is what I had written on 6 February on my blog:

As expected, we have almost all major newspapers in Delhi carrying front page election advertisements by BJP even after the official campaigning is over. We are now debating if the newspaper ads published in the 48 hours period before the poll closes amounts to the violation of the Election Commission of India’s guidelines.

BJP has been quick to justify its action while AAP would like an intervention by the EC.

Here’s what the EC guidelines broadly say on campaigns.

“The campaign is the period when the political parties put forward candidates and arguments with which they hope to persuade people to vote for their candidates and parties. Candidates are given a week to put forward their nominations. These are scrutinised by the Returning Officers and if not found to be in order can be rejected after a summary hearing. Validly nominated candidates can withdraw within two days after nominations have been scrutinised. The official campaign lasts at least two weeks from the drawing up of the list of nominated candidates, and officially ends 48 hours before polling closes.”

So going by this definition, the BJP has violated the EC guidelines as its ads in today’s newspapers do put forward the party’s arguments that aim to persuade people to vote in its favour.

But BJP isn’t the first party to have committed this violation. Parties with deep pockets have been guilty even in the past but the EC’s inaction is what has made the habitual offenders more emboldened!

And when we’ve finished criticising political parties and the election commission, let’s also look at whats happening on TV channels since 1800 hours last evening .

The official campaign may have come to an end, but it’s been well and truly on from the studios of the TV channels.

Consider this.

“Last evening I switched on my TV to bring myself up to speed with the elections related headlines. An English
news channel’s top banner informed, “High Decibel Campaign Ends.” However, the visuals being broadcast were of the Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal who was speaking to the channel’s reporter.

The interview with Kejriwal was not about how he was going to spend the next few days or if he preferred eating daal chawal over a veg Biryani. The AAP’s CM candidate was being quizzed about the elections, the charges of money laundering and opinion polls etc. If I was a Delhi voter, whatever Kejriwal said had a potential to influence my decision to exercise my voting rights on February 7.

Another English channel was broadcasting their own exclusive interview with the union finance minister Arun Jaitley. While this interview was on, the channel also announced its intention to run another big and ‘exclusive’ interview with the BJP president Amit Shah. No prize for guessing as to what Shah would have talked about in this planned interview.

And if allowing political parties to continue their campaigns through rolling news programmes was not enough, the channels also announced big debates scheduled for the same evening when the spokespersons flying the flag for their respective parties had more opportunities to influence the minds of the voters.

Once again this is in violation of the Election Commission’s guidelines on campaigning. But does anybody care?

EC guidelines clearly warns the broadcasters not to carry any “election matter i.e. any matter intended or circulated to influence or affect the result of an election during the 48 hours ending with the hours fixed for the conclusion of poll in violation of Section 126(1)(b) of The Representation of People Act 1951.”

The EC further promises to report any violations by the broadcasters to the News Broadcasting Standards Authority.

I’m sure these guidelines may have existed even in the past and yet the EC has done little to enforce them. The EC’s inaction has allowed both the media and politicians to violate this rule election after election with impunity?

And this ‘unofficial’ campaign will not stop until the final vote has been cast on the polling day. Come the polling day, netas will be chased for sound bites and they will be simply too excited to oblige as it allows them to give the last minute push to convince the voters why they should vote for their party.

Of course none of my media colleagues detect anything objectionable here. I do because perhaps I’ve lived far too long away from India observing the media and the coverage of elections in a more matured democracy such as England where there would be absolutely zero tolerance to the violation of such rules.

During my 12 years association with the BBC in UK, I must have been involved in the coverage of dozens of elections as producer, reporter and editor. It would be unthinkable for us not to exercise utmost care in adhering to our editorial guidelines ( yes BBC has a book called editorial guidelines that consists of hundreds of pages and staff will never be allowed to work on the news and current affairs programmes without having fully familiarised themselves with the book) which included ensuring proportionate coverage to different political parties and retuning to non-election programming as soon as the campaign had officially ended. That means no election related news, no TV debates on elections and most importantly no full page ads in violation of model code of conduct.