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Is Election Commission Scared Of Modi?

Last updated on: May 25, 2024 00:35 IST

This election will be remembered for being the first election where the Election Commission failed to take action on gross violations involving the ruling party that repeatedly used religion, communal slurs, lies and undocumented allegations, observes Ramesh Menon.

IMAGE: Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra D Modi during an election rally in Koderma, Jharkhand, May 14, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

The 2024 Lok Sabha polls will be etched in history as one of the most wretched and vile general election.

India has faced 18 general elections and none has been so pathetic in terms of debate and content. It showed the worst face of the Indian politician freely mouthing hate speech and fanning communal flares.

What was unprecedented was that it was heralded by Narendra Modi who went all out at rally after rally making wild allegations, repeating lie after lie and sculpting what was a vile communal campaign.

Being a leadership driven society, many other leaders joined in confident that they will not be taken to task for violations and stoked the fire further to create fear and hatred.

This election will also be remembered for being the first election where the Election Commission failed to take action on gross violations involving the ruling party that repeatedly used religion, communal slurs, lies and undocumented allegations.

It just chose to look the other way. But when the BJP filed complaints against the Opposition, they were electrified into action.

It was not an equal playing field.

IMAGE: Madhavi Latha, the BJP candidate from Hyderabad, speaks to the media regarding the FIR registered against her, May 14, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

The scenario was so ugly that many chose not to vote, as polling percentages show all over India.

There was a pall of gloom clouding thousands of voters who wondered what was going on as election debates and rallies had leaders and candidates show little regard for dignity, plummeting to the lowest denomination of public taste.

One thing was clear: India's democratic values have eroded.

We will see it in the years ahead as collateral damage will eat into the the insides of what is left of democratic institutions and values.

The signs are already showing up. At least 30 advertisements costing crores of rupees on Meta platforms had communal undertones or were attacking minorities.

Hyderabad's BJP candidate, Madhavi Lata, asked hijab-wearing women to reveal their faces insisting she wanted to check their identity cards.

Something like this would have been unimaginable a few years ago. It is the Election Commission's job to check it, and candidates are not authorised to do it, but police personnel looked on and did not intervene. The police later registered a FIR against her for various offences that includes intent to incite.

Deepfake videos of actors Ranveer Singh and Aamir Khan were circulating, and they were shown criticising Modi and asking the Congress to be voted to power.

BJP workers assaulted digital journalist Raghav Trivedi as he asked them if women attending an Amit A Shah rally in Rae Bareli were brought there after they were offered Rs 100 each. They first got him to delete videos of women saying so whom he had earlier interviewed before they beat him up in front of police officers at the venue. They called him 'mullah' and 'attanki', punching him till he was unconscious. He had to be hospitalised.

IMAGE: Senior BJP leader Amit A Shah being felicitated during an election rally at Chanditala in Hooghly, May 15, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

When the BJP complained to the Election Commission that the Congress was distributing guarantee cards to voters, which was tantamount to bribery, it took action. But he was deaf to Modi's and his party's guarantee card assurance at the meeting after the meeting.

When the BJP complained that the Aam Aadmi Party and the Shiv Sena of the Uddhav Thackeray group were using 'Jai Bhavani' and Hindu in their election campaign songs, the Election Commission sat up to take note.

Myopia struck the Election Commission when Modi and Shah sought votes in the name of Hindu Gods like Ram and Hanuman.

The Congress. AAP, the Bharat Rashtra Samiti, the Trinamool Congress, the Communist Party of India-Marxist, the Shiv Sena (UBT), the Nationalist Congress Party (SP) and many others publicly pointed out how the BJP was repeatedly violating norms laid down by the Election Commission, but it fell on deaf ears.

IMAGE: Modi holds a bow and an arrow during a public meeting in Banswara, April 21, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

After the first phase of elections, Modi got overly aggressive and abandoned his development plank to an apparent communal one.

He called the Congress a disciple of Pakistan.

He said the Congress was following a communal agenda.

He said Hindus have become second-class citizens in West Bengal.

He said in Banswara, Rajasthan, that if the Congress came to power, they would take the mangalsutra of Hindu women and pass it on to Muslims.

He said the Congress was planning to bring in inheritance tax and chose not to mention that an earlier Congress government had abolished it.

At a rally in Banaskantha, Gujarat, Modi cautioned voters that if the Congress came into power, it would take one of the two buffaloes a family had.

Modi asked voters at Kalaburagi in Karnataka to reject the Congress as they did not attend the consecration of the Ram temple at Ayodhya.

IMAGE: Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge addresses an election meeting in Banswara, March 7, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Modi said that the Congress government in Karnataka had granted reservation to Muslims under the other backward castes list. He did not say that the state's BJP government had done the same.

At Madhya Pradesh's Khargone, Modi said the Congress was asking voters to do 'Vote Jihad' against him, and a people from a particular religion had been asked to do it.

Modi said that Rahul Gandhi has stopped talking about Adani-Ambani when the fact is that the duo was referred to by Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge on April 24. Rahul had referred to Adani and Ambani numerous times during his Bharat Jodo Yatra.

Modi wondered how many sacks of black money had been given to the Congress by these two ardent supporters who have greatly benefitted from government policies and concessions in the last ten years.

Modi said that the Congress was planning to select sportspersons based on religion.

Modi said that if the Congress won, they would X-ray everyone's lockers, bank accounts, and even bajra.

Each of these was a lie.

IMAGE: BJP leader Anurag Thakur during a roadshow in support of Madhavi Latha, the BJP candidate from Hyderabad, April 24, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

When an Opposition leader remarked that no prime minister in India had lied so much to the electorate, he was on the mark.

Not to be left behind in the peace to ignite communal sentiment, Shah said that the Congress would bring in the Muslim personal law. Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, said that the Congress had promised in its manifesto to bring in Sharia laws.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said that the Congress would introduce a minority quota in the armed forces.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami asked voters to ensure that only Ram bhakts came to power.

Anurag Thakur, Union information and broadcasting minister, said that the Congress would give people's property to Muslims and is aiming to split the nation along religious and regional lines.

IMAGE: Arun Goel resigned as Election Commissioner ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, February 26, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Is the Election Commission now irrelevant and an institution that has lost its independence?

After the Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners Act 2023 was enforced, the government has complete control over the Election Commission as it is the prime minister, a Cabinet minister, and an Opposition leader who will now choose Election Commissioners. It adroitly removed the Chief Justice of India from the panel and replaced him with a Cabinet minister who will also obviously be chosen by Modi.

Arun Goel, one of the election commissioners, resigned just before elections were announced. The electorate needs to know why and what his differences were with Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar.

The Election Commission's integrity will now be referred to in the past tense.

Once an institution breaks down, it is impossible to rebuild it. We have seen so many cases in the last few years. The damage is so deep.

IMAGE: Modi releases the BJP's election manifesto, April 14, 2024. Photograph: Shrikant Singh/ANI Photo

This election would be remembered for the mediocre issues it kicked up in a lie-packed election campaign.

Instead of telling voters what it had done in ten years and what it would want to do in the next five, the BJP campaign in the second phase degenerated into attacking the Congress and how its manifesto stank of the agenda of the Muslim League and the Leftists.

IMAGE: Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Revanth Reddy, K C Venugopal and others launch the party's election manifesto in Hyderabad, April 6, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

The Congress manifesto did not mention the word Muslims, mangalsutra, inheritance tax, buffaloes, or taking wealth from the Hindus to give it to Muslims. But this is what BJP strategists read as this is what they wanted to read and use.

While the Congress promised an apprenticeship for a year with Rs 100,000 to all graduates and diploma-holders under 25 and creation of 3 million government jobs, the BJP vaguely promised to expand employment opportunities.

The Congress promised a legal guarantee to the minimum support prices, which farmers have been demanding for long; the BJP said it would give them a annual dole that works out to less than Rs 17 a day!

While narrow issues dominated the narrative, it was tragic that vexed problems like unemployment, inflation, waning of democratic institutions, education, health, environment, climate change, agriculture, and others were ignored.

It was an eloquent reminder of how India's political culture had degenerated to an all time low.

The political circus in this election has shown deep faults in the electoral process, making many voters angry and sceptical as they do not know who they should vote for.

Ramesh Menon, an award-winning journalist, educator, documentary film-maker, and corporate trainer, is the author of Modi Demystified: The Making of a Prime Minister.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/