Guj polls: BJP, Cong at loggerheads over Rahul TV interview

National | Dec. 13, 2017, 9:15 p.m.

New Delhi, Dec 13: The BJP and the Congress were locked in a war of words today over Rahul Gandhi's interviews aired by Gujarati TV channels on the eve of final phase of the Assembly polls which also led the former to lodge a complaint with the Election Commission. 

The EC said it will examine the complaint by the BJP that the interviews of the Congress president-elect telecast today violated the Model Code of Conduct. 

As a controversy erupted after several Gujarati news channels started airing the interviews, the BJP alleged he has turned so "desperate" fearing defeat in the Gujarat polls that he "violated" the Model Code of Conduct to giving the media interviews a day before the second and final phase of the elections tomorrow.

The Congress on its part accused Chief Minister Vijay Ruapani and others of threatening journalists for airing Rahul Gandhi's interview and urged the Election Commission for action against them including registration of cases. 

Chief Electoral Officer of Gujarat B B Swain told reporters in Gandhinagar that a report will be submitted to the Election Commission of India. 

While the BJP claimed that airing of interviews today was a "clear violation" of the poll code, Swain said the rules and guidelines which prohibit campaigning in the 48-hour period before the end of polling do not amount to a "gag order". 

"There are rules and guidelines which ban broadcasting of certain election-related content on TV during 48 hours... But we can not call it a gag order. 

"Yes, we have received a complaint. We will acquire the CD of interview(s) and watch it to decide whether it has violated various provisions of section 126 of the Representation of the People Act. After that we will convey our opinion to the Election Commission," Swain said. 

Section 126 relates to prohibition of public meetings during period of 48 hours prior to the end of polling. 

When asked if a restraining order has been issued to news channels to stop the broadcast, Swain only said that he will first examine the evidence. 

"Before the start of 48-hour period, all the rules related to campaigning as prescribed under section 126 were brought to the attention of political parties and candidates. Now if a complaint comes about an interview, we will first examine the evidence," said Swain. 

As per the EC guideline for the media, electronic media, including TV channels, can't broadcast anything related to the elections after 5.00 pm of December 12. 

"We filed three complaints, through e-mail, with the EC as well as the Gujarat Chief Electoral Officer, yesterday and today, as we came to know yesterday itself that such interviews will be aired today. Though we sought immediate action, the interviews went on air," said a state BJP leader who did not want be identified. 

As Gandhi spoke about Gujarat in these interviews, it was a clear violation of section 126, he alleged. 

"We even asked officials yesterday to take suo motu (on their own) action and stop channels from airing the interviews today. However, they were aired. It does not make any difference if the interview is conducted in Delhi. As Rahul spoke about Gujarat and it was aired in Gujarat, it violates the code," said the leader. 

Union minister Piyush Goyal said the Election Commission should act following these interviews and claimed that the undercurrent which Gandhi said was present in Gujarat, will work against the Congress and the BJP will win over 150 seats in the 182-seat assembly.

"Congress is so scared and Rahul Gandhi is desperate to save his face. That is why he violated the Model Code of Conduct and gave interviews. We don't think such interviews are allowed in the 48 hours prior to polls. We have never given such interviews," Goyal told a press conference in Delhi. 

Congress incharge of communications department Randeep Surjewala alleged that some state BJP leaders were threatening TV channels with cases in the name of Election Commission for violation of model code of conduct. 

"We strongly condemn the BJP and its leaders for their arrogant behaviour. We warn the BJP that they cannot impose such restrictions on the media as there is still rule of democracy in the country. 

"We urge the Election Commission to take note of this and demand registration of cases against those threatening journalists," Surjewala told reporters in Delhi. 

Asked who were issuing such threats to journalists, he said, "We are on record to say that Gujarat chief minister and Gujarat BJP chief are calling up TV channels and have threatened them. Union minister Piyush Goyal has also said that cases will be registered against those airing Gandhi's interview." 


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