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Poll Body Raps Congress Over Rahul Gandhi's Agniveer, Constitution Pitches

Rahul Gandhi has been regularly seen displaying the Constitution at poll rallies

New Delhi:

The Election Commission today directed the Congress to ensure that its key leaders don’t indulge in “political propaganda involving activities of the defence forces” and “do not make statements which give false impression” that the Constitution “may be abolished or sold”.

Significantly, the two subjects flagged by the poll body are among the key political planks used by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to target the Narendra Modi government. Mr Gandhi has repeatedly displayed the Constitution of India during his speeches.

He has also widely spoken out against the Agniveer scheme for recruitment to defence forces. In fact, hours before the Election Commission’s directions to Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge, Mr Gandhi told a rally in Haryana that the Agniveer scheme will be “thrown into the dustbin” if the INDIA bloc comes to power in the ongoing Lok Sabha polls.

The Election Commission’s note to the Congress president mentions speeches by Rahul Gandhi, but does not name him. 

In its letter, the poll body has said elections are an opportunity for political parties to present themselves “in their ideal best for the voting community to experience, emulate and build hopes on”. “Elections are periodic exercises, they come and go, but political parties like yours endure; even more enduring preserve is India’s socio-cultural milieu; Political parties are in the task of nurturing leaders for the country for present and future. They cannot afford to be lax in any manner in enforcing discipline and conduct among the cadre in the high stake electoral space; especially with reference to senior members,” it said.

The poll body said it expects the Congress to “fully align the campaign methods to the practical aspects of the composite and sensitive fabric of India”. The poll body asked the Congress chief to direct its star campaigners to avoid making statements prohibited under the General Conduct rules of the model code of conduct. It mentioned that the rules provide that “no party or candidate shall include in any activity which may aggravate existing difference or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic”.

The poll body asked Mr Kharge to ensure that the Congress’s campaigners and candidates do not indulge in “political propaganda involving activities of the defence forces and not to make potentially divisive statements regarding socio-economic composition of Defence forces”. It also said that the party leadership must ask its star campaigners to desist from making statements “which give false impression such as that the Constitution of India may be abolished or sold”.

The instructions come in response to BJP complaint to the Election Commission that flagged speeches by Rahul Gandhi. Separately, the poll body has rapped the ruling BJP over speeches by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the Congress had flagged in a complaint.

On April 25, the Election Commission had issued a notice to the Congress chief in this matter. The poll body has said that the Congress replies “dwell at length to stoutly defend the campaign methods and utterances of your star campaigner, while making a case for action against BJP, the political party that complained against you”. “The MCC already takes into account the unevenness of power and authority between Opposition and the Ruling Party and, has the primary purpose to control and regulate the tempo and the quality of the campaign speech and conduct, and however does not allow unlimited extra space to the opposition, bordering on an immunity from MCC provisions,” it notes.