Serial offenders

Union steel minister Beni Prasad Verma may want everyone, in particular the Election Commission, to take a charitable view of his violation of the model code of conduct last week during the course of his election campaign in Uttar Pradesh.

But only the naive would believe him, after he even expressly dared the Commission to initiate action against him over his strident advocacy of sub-quota for Muslims. Certainly, he wasn’t unaware of the fact that a similar violation by his ministerial colleague Salman Khurshid a few days earlier had prompted the Commission to take the unprecedented step of writing to president Pratibha Patil, seeking action against a defiant minister.

Verma’s belated –and, in the face of a notice from the Commission–plea that his outbursts were a case of ‘slip of the tongue’ is, to say the least, disingenuous.
It is not amusing. When Verma made the assertions at an election rally in UP, seated along side him were the original offender, Khurshid, and the state election campaign in-charge Digvijay Singh.

As the chief campaign strategist of the Congress, Singh has not left anybody in any doubt about the party’s single-minded pursuit of the Muslim electorate in the present Assembly elections. He is convinced that if the Congress has to do well in the state, it must win back the support of the Muslim who constitute nearly 17 per cent of the total UP electorate. How else does one explain Singh’s countless claims in the recent past that the September, 2008 Batla House encounter by Delhi police against suspected Indian Mujahideen activists was a fake encounter, notwithstanding Union home minister P Chidambaram’s repeated assertions to the contrary?

What is evident, therefore, is a conscious plan underlining these repeated poll code violations by party leaders. It appears they wouldn’t mind attracting the Commission’s wrath and attendant controversies their violations rake up as long as they serve a purpose – publicising their sub-quota commitment among the Muslim electorate. Not surprisingly, top party leaders have chosen to maintain silence about these violations.

Time has come for the Commission to consider if it can debar the code violators from the poll arena or even countermand polling in constituencies where these kinds of serious violations have occurred. It is bad for the evolution of healthy electoral practices in the country if a message gets across that the Commission is toothless when confronted with poll code violations by high-profile leaders belonging to major political parties.

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