Narendra Modi on Wednesday landed in a soup with the Election Commission ordering the Gujarat administration to file a complaint or a first information report against him for violating poll laws by displaying the Bharatiya Janata Party's election symbol 'lotus' and making a speech after casting his vote in Gandhinagar.
"The commission is of the view that by holding that meeting and also by addressing the same today when the polling is going on in the entire state of Gujarat and in different parts of the country, Narendra Modi has violated the provisions of Sections 126 (1)(a) and 126 (l)(b) of Representation of People Act, 1951.
"Therefore, the commission directs...that complaint/ FIRas the case may be, should be filed against Narendra Modi and all others who were involved in the convening and holding of the said meeting...," the EC order said in Delhi.
It has asked the Gujarat chief secretary and the director general of police to send a compliance report by 6 pm.
Modi triggered a controversy when he openly sought votes for the BJP while holding aloft his party's ‘lotus' symbol immediately after casting his ballot.
The Congress quickly moved the Election Commission accusing him of blatant violation of model code of conduct. In Delhi, responding to questions, BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi asserted that Modi has "not violated the election code. It was not an organised press conference".
She, however, went on to add, "The Election Commission is a constitutional institution and we respect it. We will abide by its decision."
Asked about the EC direction to the Gujarat government to file an FIR against Modi, she said, "We will address the issue."
In its order, the EC also said that all the TV channels and other electronic media, which carried the proceedings of the meeting and displayed the election matter should also be proceeded against under Section 126 (l) (b) "by filing separate complaints/FlRs against those channels."
According to the section 126 (1) (a) and (b), there is a prohibition of public meetings during period of 48 hours ending with hour fixed for conclusion of poll. It states that "no person shall: (a) convene, hold or attend, join or address any public meeting or procession in connection with an election and (b) display to the public any election matter by means of cinematograph, television or other similar apparatus."
Though it is a normal practice for top leaders to make brief statements to the media after casting their votes, what irked Modi's rivals was a press conference that the BJP prime ministerial candidate held during which he not only fervently asked the electorate to vote for the party but also launched a tirade against the Congress.
The tech-savvy BJP's prime ministerial hopeful was also seen happily clicking selfies while prominently displaying the party symbol.
All Indian Congress Committee legal department secretary K C Mittal promptly filed a complaint with the EC, saying Modi's speech and display of symbol was in violation of section 126 of RP Act (RPA) and demanded an FIR be registered against him.
"It is noticed from the live news telecast on various news channels that Modi went to the polling station at Gandhinagar to cast his vote. And on his way out he was campaigning for the BJP and delivering speech in a fashion to canvas for the BJP, himself and also displayed the election symbol to the public while showing his finger for having cast his vote," the party said in the complaint, adding, "he may also be disqualified for such blatant violation."
The EC took the decision after going through the video recording of Modi's address after he cast his vote today. It said from the substance, tone and tenor of the address made by Modi and the statements made by him and the manner in which the symbol 'lotus' was displayed by him, "the said address was in the nature of political speech intended and calculated to influence and affect the result of elections in the constituencies going to polls, not only in Ahmedabad but also in all other constituencies in the state of Gujarat and elsewhere in the country."
Meanwhile, EC official also referred to an April 9 order issued by the poll panel, which said that people cannot enter a polling station with caps, shawls and clothes bearing symbol of any political party.
It said section 130 of the RP Act prohibits any person from canvassing for votes or exhibit any notice or signs relating to the election within the polling station on the day of polls.
"In view of the above, it is further clarified that wearables like caps, shawl etc with political party's name, symbol or slogan are not allowed inside the polling stations on the poll day. This may be adhered to in the counting centres on the counting day also," the EC directive had said.
The Ahmedabad collector, who is the returning officer for the poll, replied in the affirmative when asked whether the EC had sought a report on Modi's press conference row. "We have sent a report to the CEO. We have sent a preliminary report. Shall submit video clip," returning officer of Ahmedabad Roopwant Singh said.
Using the occasion to target the Congress, Modi said, "The Congress has accepted defeat as it is now saying that it will support the Third Front to keep me out of the (PM's) race. The mother-son government is on its way out," he said.
Modi's presser did not go down well with the Aam Aadmi Party too, with its Gujarat convener Sukhdev Patel saying they would register a complaint against him.
"Modi is a senior politician. He should know his limits. But it has been his nature to flout rules and this is an example of it," Patel said.
Gujarat Congress president Arjun Modhvadia said, "We will seek action against him and demand his arrest for poll code violation."
With inputs from PTI
Image: The EC has directed FIR against BJP's Narendra Modi