Karnataka campaign turns shriller with Bajrang Dal issue; EC asks parties to exercise restraint

Bengaluru/New Delhi: The Congress, in its election manifesto said it will take decisive action as per law including imposing a ban on organisations like Bajrang Dal and PFI

BY | Wednesday, 3 May, 2023

A war of words over the Congress manifesto pledge to ban the Bajrang Dal added to the shrillness of the poll campaign in Karnataka on Tuesday, even as the Election Commission issued an advisory to parties and their star campaigners asking them to exercise restraint in their remarks and not to vitiate the atmosphere.

Both the Congress and the BJP rushed to the Election Commission seeking a ban on electioneering by top leaders of the other side alleging that they had violated the model of conduct with their remarks.

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi leading the offensive on Congress’ anti-Bajrang Dal stance, members of the outfit held protests outside Congress Party’s Karnataka offices, even as top BJP ministers attacked the grand old party alleging it has opposed both “Lord Rama and Lord Hanuman” and was following politics of appeasement and division.

The promised ban on Bajrang Dal was the latest in a series of dissonant campaign notes, after invectives like ‘nalayak beta’ (unworthy son), ‘zehreela saanp’ (poisonous snake) and ‘vish kanya’ (venomous maiden) were hurled during the high-voltage campaigning for a triangular fight among the Congress, BJP and JDS.

Addressing an election rally in Vijayanagara district, Prime Minister Modi said he was fortunate that he got the opportunity to pay obeisance to the land of Hanuman.

“But see the misfortune that when I have come to pay my respect to Hanuman’s land, at the same time, the Congress in its manifesto has decided to lock up Lord Hanuman.

“Initially, they locked up Prabhu Shri Ram (Lord Ram). And now they want to lock up people who say Jai Bajrang Bali’,” the prime minister said.

“It is the misfortune of the country that the Congress had a problem with Prabhu Shri Ram and now it has a problem with the people who say ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’,” he added.

The BJP alleged that Congress had insulted Lord Hanuman with its “audacious” statement and the people of Karnataka will give a befitting reply in the polls, but the Congress hit back claiming that it was Prime Minister Modi who had hurt religious sentiments and insulted the deity by “equating” him with the Bajrang Dal and demanded an apology from him.

The Congress, in its election manifesto for the May 10 Karnataka Assembly polls, said it will take decisive action as per law including imposing a ban on organisations like Bajrang Dal and PFI and alleged that they were promoting enmity among communities.

The party also accused top BJP leaders Amit Shah, J P Nadda and Yogi Adityanath of giving hate speeches that were leading to a divide in society and demanded that they be banned from further campaigning as they were vitiating the atmosphere.

On the other hand, the BJP sought an FIR and a ban on campaigning by Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge and his son Priyank Kharge.

Amid the verbal slugfest, the Election Commission issued an advisory to political parties and their star campaigners, asking them to exercise caution and restraint in their utterances and not to vitiate the election atmosphere.

Taking serious note of the “plummeting level of campaign discourse” during electioneering, the poll panel referred to the instances of “inappropriate vocabulary and language” used during the ongoing campaign by persons, “in particular, by those invested with the statutory status of star campaigner”.

“Such instances have occasioned various complaints, cross complaints and have also attracted negative media attention,” the EC said in a statement.

“It is imperative for all parties and stakeholders to remain within the confines of the Model Code of Conduct and the legal framework in their utterances while campaigning so as to maintain the dignity of the political discourse and not to vitiate the campaign and the election atmosphere,” the advisory read.

“The spirit of the MCC is not just avoidance of a direct violation, it also prohibits attempts to vitiate the electoral space through suggestive or indirect statements or innuendoes,” it said in its advisory.

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Union Minister Piyush Goyal, who led a BJP delegation to the EC, welcomed the poll body’s advisory and hoped the Congress will respect it. He alleged the Congress has “not respected any constitutional body including EC, Parliament and courts”.

Goyal raised with the Election Commission the issue of Congress promising tough action against Bajrang Dal and its leader Priyank Kharge calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi “nalayak”, as it accused the opposition party of resorting to politics of appeasement and division in Karnataka.

He also defended the Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the RSS-affiliated Vishva Hindu Parishad, as an organisation devoted to Lord Hanuman and serving people, and said the Congress’ attack on it was “shameful”. It shows that the party believes in only appeasement, he told reporters.

“The devotees of Lord Hanuman are the Bajrangis of Bajrang Dal and the Congress Party has announced in its election manifesto that it would ban the Bajrang Dal. If the devotees of Lord Hanuman rebel, then the Congress will be uprooted from the country,” Karnataka CM Basavraj Bommai’s office quoted him as saying in a statement.

The Congress met the EC and accused Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP chief J P Nadda and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of making “hate speeches” in poll-bound Karnataka and urged the Election Commission to take immediate action against them by banning them from campaigning in the wake of Supreme Court orders on such speeches.

A delegation of Congress leaders comprising Ajay Maken, Vivek Tankha, Salman Khurshid and Pawan Khera met the Election Commission and gave them a memorandum.

“The home minister says such things which polarise the country and create division in society…, neither the Constitution provides for such a thing nor does the oath they take while assuming the high office. We have pointed this out to the Election Commission,” Tankha told reporters after the meeting.

He asked what did the home minister mean by saying that “there would be riots in India if the Congress comes to power” and asked if he meant that the Congress was causing the riots.

“The real thing is that people holding constitutional positions should not make such kind of hate speeches. It is against the law and immediate action should be taken against them as per Supreme Court orders,” he said.

“We reiterate our concern that this is a case of a well hatched criminal conspiracy to commit offences against public tranquility, and offences relating to elections and offences related to criminal intimidation, insult and annoyance,” the memorandum said.

It added that the pattern has started adversely affecting the election process and the inaction from this commission is furthering the agenda of creating communal disharmony.

“We reiterate our request to this commission to ban Sh Amit Shah, Mr Yogi Adityanath and Mr J P Nadda from all campaign activities till the conclusion of the election,” Surjewala said in the memorandum.

The opposition party has alleged that the BJP leaders are trying to “scare, divide and mislead the society through ‘hate speeches'”.

Meanwhile, the Bajrang Dal also held a protest outside the Congress headquarters in Delhi and demanded that the opposition party immediately withdraw its poll promise failing which it will launch country-wide protests.

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