The Election Commission has defended its use of the armed forces in a tweet – viewed by some as a violation of its own rules – urging eligible people to vote in the final phases of the Bengal polls.
The poll body said the Model Code – which cautions against involving the armed forces in election campaigns – was applicable only to political parties and their poll strategies and material, and did not apply in this case. The Commission said its tweet was only meant to educate people about the importance of voting.
“In the instant case, what mileage and for whom any mileage is sought by the Commission by sending out an appeal…” the poll body asked, adding, “… kindly see the text of the ad… is to say in clear words that if defence personnel can give their lives fighting for the nation, why should voters not step out of their home and hearth to come to the polling booth and vote freely and fearlessly.”
The tweet in question was posted Saturday, as Bengal voted in the latest phase of polling.
The ad read: “They sacrifice for their country. Can’t you even for the country?”
Below this text is the silhouette of the Amar Jawan Jyoti – a war memorial under India Gate in Delhi that honours Indian soldiers who died for their country during the 1971 war with Pakistan.
The poster also borrows iconic cartoonist RK Laxman’s ‘common man’ paying homage to the memorial, and says: “Vote is not only your right, but also your duty. Cast your vote fearlessly”.
— Election Commission of India #SVEEP (@ECISVEEP) April 10, 2021
Reference to the armed forces during polls is prohibited by two Election Commission advisories. The most recent of these was in March 2019 – weeks before the start of the Lok Sabha election.
That reminder was necessitated by political leaders brazenly piggybacking on the army in the backdrop of air strikes on a Jaish-e Mohammed (JeM) terror camp in Pakistan’s Balakot.
Examples of that piggybacking included posters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah with Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was hailed as a national hero after he shot down a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet in February 27.
Dear Election Commission of India:
Is this permissible?
Using photograph of a serving soldier in political posters?
If not, will you act against it? pic.twitter.com/IiGUkphZWM
— Yogendra Yadav (@_YogendraYadav) March 9, 2019
The poll body responded by asserting that the armed forces are “apolitical and neutral stakeholders in a modern democracy” and asked political parties across the country to desist from using photographs of defence personnel on hoardings or posters in the run-up to polling.
“It is therefore necessary that political parties and leaders exercise great caution while making any reference to the Armed Forces in their political campaigns,” the Election Commission had said.
The Commission’s Model Code – enforced during campaigning and polling – is, as it said in its statement, only for political parties to follow. The poll body is not bound to them, but violating the rule will make it difficult to penalise others when they make similar infringements.