Varun “Guilty,” Says Election Commission

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Paradoxically, the controversy raised over communally inflammatory comments made by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Varun Gandhi while campaigning in Pilibhit has proved to be more complex than probably he or his party expected. This has been further compounded with the Election Commission (EC) finding Varun “guilty” of making ant-Muslim communal comments in Pilibhit. Expressing dissatisfaction with Varun’s reply, the EC rejected it (March 22). The EC also advised the BJP not to issue Varun a ticket to fight the Lok Sabha elections. The EC’s response defeats the attempts made by BJP to distance itself from Varun’s comments.

During an election meeting in Pilibhit, Varun (29) had earlier said: “This is not a ‘hand’ (Congress symbol), it is the power of ‘lotus’ (BJP) symbol. It will cut the head of….” At another meeting, he said: “If anyone raises a finger towards Hindus or if someone thinks that Hindus are weak and leaderless, if someone thinks that these leaders lick our boots for votes, if anyone raises a finger towards Hindus, then I swear on Gita that I will cut that hand.

While the extremist groups linked with saffron brigade, including Shiv Sena, found nothing wrong with his comments, the BJP chose to disassociate itself from the same. Defending Varun’s “inflammatory utterances,” the Hindu Mahasabha said that he was being targeted because he was speaking for the cause of “Hindutva.” Distancing itself from Varun’s remarks, the BJP issued an advisory to its nominees to refrain from targeting any community in their election campaign. Asserting that Varun’s remarks were “not what the party stands for,” BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said: “We are of the strong belief that Varun Gandhi should apologize. The BJP dissociates itself from his remarks.” “We have advised all our candidates to practice caution and restrain in their speeches,” BJP leader Siddarth Nath Singh said.

Among the first to condemn Varun’s remarks, in the politically divided family, was his aunt, Congress chief Sonia who said they were “unethical and against law.” Declining to comment on her son’s remarks, Maneka (BJP) said: “I don’t want to say anything.” Maneka, who has been elected to Lok Sabha five times from Pilibhit gave up this constituency to ensure an easy entry into Lower House for Varun. She is contesting from Aonla. Varun is late premier Indira Gandhi’s grandson, with Sonia being widow of her elder son Rajiv and Maneka of younger son Sanjay. Varun’s surname is from that of his grandfather (Indira’s husband) Feroze Gandhi, who was a Parsee by religion.

Before taking a decision on Varun’s controversial comments, earlier in the week, the EC issued separate notices to both him and BJP. It also directed the Uttar Pradesh (UP) authorities to register a First Information Report (FIR) against Varun for his allegedly inflammatory speech against Muslims. Varun filed a petition before the Allahabad High Court seeking quashing of the FIR filed against him. Subsequently, arguing that provision for anticipatory bail was not available in UP, his lawyers moved to Delhi High Court. Justice Reva Khetrapal granted him anticipatory bail till March 27 on a personal bond of Rs 50,000. Khetrapal turned down submission of Delhi police that the court had no jurisdiction to entertain Varun’s petition as the FIR was lodged against him in UP (March 20).

In his reply to the EC, Varun claimed that the CDs were doctored with. Stating that it was not responsible for what Varun had allegedly stated, the BJP requested the EC to take back the notice. In its letter to the EC, the BJP said that “it completely disagrees, disassociates and disapproves the contents of the alleged CD (of the speeches) as sent to us.” “Even assuming that a speech has been delivered by a member of the party, these contents do not represent the views of the party or its policies,” the BJP said. Besides, reiterating its commitment to the model code of conduct, the BJP said that it “shall endeavor to fully comply with it.” “Merely because a member of the party has expressed views contrary to what the party stands for, the party cannot be vested with any responsibility,” the BJP said. “In view of the categorical position taken by the BJP before the issuance of the notice (by the poll panel) and in reply to the notice, we request the Election Commission to discharge the notice,” the party said.

It was Varun’s responsibility to prove that CDs containing his communal speech were tampered with, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) N. Gopalswami had stated earlier. “We have seen the videos. It is for Varun to prove that it has been tampered with. The question of disqualification arises only when nomination starts,” Gopalaswami said. The EC’s decision (March 22) clearly indicated that it was not satisfied with Varun’s stand on CDs being tampered. The EC also declined to yield to BJP’s stand that the party was not responsible for Varun’s remarks. The underlying meaning of EC’s “advise” apparently is that the BJP is expected to prove its stand by not giving Varun a party ticket for Lok Sabha polls.

Irrespective of what lies ahead in the political and legal field for Varun, the controversy has certainly proved more costly than he had probably envisaged. It has raised questions about Varun entering the political field without being fully aware of the political code and rules he is supposed to follow. Media coverage earned by him being primarily negative has only made it a tough task for Varun and his party to get out of the mess they have been caught in. There is a view that the BJP and Varun remain hopeful of communally exploiting the publicity gained by the latter’s anti-Muslim remarks. The saffron brigade, according to Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad Yadav, is trying to “communalize” the society by using Varun as a “tool” for that. Had he been the home minister, he said: “I would have put Varun Gandhi behind the bars.” A long politico-legal ordeal seems to have begun for Varun by his trying his hand at old tainted communal card, even before formally joining the electoral race!


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