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Vile Campaigning

Monday, May 06, 2019
By Prashant Hamine

The election campaigning to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections has hit a new low in terms of it being vile enough and seen unseen spin offs like surrogate campaigning, the likes never seen before. The new age surrogate campaigning by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) president Raj Thackeray has stumped the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which ran to the Election Commission of India (ECI) seeking relief from the anti-BJP campaign of the MNS chief.

MNS chief has apparently cleverly used the loophole in the election laws governing election campaigns which has no provisions to deal with campaigning by political parties and leaders who do not clearly state their voting preferences yet call upon the electorate not to vote for parties like the BJP. At present the law is silent over can political parties and leaders indulge in surrogate campaigning or not.

Another loophole that the MNS chief is exploiting to the hilt is that there is no expenditure limit to which political parties can spend on campaigning. He has cleverly refrained from urging the voters to vote for the Congress or the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), while asking them not to vote for the BJP. Neither has he asked or taken the name of any contesting candidate urging people to vote for that candidate, thereby saving the surrogates backing him from behind the scenes.

The ECI has no answers to this new form of surrogate campaigning. Days before the poll dates were to be announced Raj Thackeray had met the NCP chief Sharad Pawar. So had Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray. But thereafter while Uddhav Thackeray patched up with BJP and toned down his attack on his ally, MNS president however adopted a contradictory stand. While the underlying message is there to be understood by one and all.

But the ECI cannot do much about it as the MNS chief is clever enough not to cross the legal boundaries. However, he and the MNS will find it difficult to prove the expenses incurred and the source of funds, when the MNS has not.fielded any candidates anywhere in Maharashtra or in any other state.

While the BJP was grappling with how to deal with the MNS, the Shiv Sena by demanding a ban on Burkha has upset it's calculations for the remaining three phases of the elections. The demand comes at a time when crucial phases of elections to Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh are yet to go be held and which has sizeable minority vote bank. The Sena however has tried to polarize the vote bank putting its ally in a tight corner.

If the MNS and Sena are posing a problem for the BJP, the ECI too has been obdurate and opaque in its response to governments plea to relax the poll code so that it can provide relief aid to people in drought affected regions of the state. But while granting the permission the ECI for some strange reasons asked the state government to take care that its actions are not misused to draw political mileage and influence the voters.

It must be borne in mind that voting for the four phases of elections for the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra are over. Therefore its caution to the government is baffling to say the least. While the ECI has temporarily gagged the motormouths who make vile comments, it needs to consider banning such motormouths till the elections are over or disqualifying the candidates themselves from contesting the elections so that their tounge wagging is checked and this vile election campaigning is stamped out for good.

Like most government departments and agencies which have more direct contact with the people like the police, the ECI too is more directly connected to the people. Yet when politicians raise doubt over its Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and make sensational claims that the EVMs can be hacked through mobile technology and hence mobile towers need to be switched off near places where EVMs are stored, the ECI is silent leaving the people at the mercy at the social media that has run riot with all sorts of wild conspiracy theories. It was little wonder then that even a angry Supreme Court of India questioned the ECI over its helplessness in dealing with motormouths during elections. After all without the voter, the ECI will be a non-entity.

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