EC has already issued a show-cause notice to Rahul and certain TV channels for airing his interview 48 hours before Phase II of Gujarat polls.
New Delhi: While Congress president-elect Rahul Gandhi may just escape the wrath of the Election Commission for his TV interview broadcast Wednesday, media houses may face some action for airing it in violation of the poll code in Gujarat, ThePrint has learnt.
The poll panel has already issued a show-cause notice to Rahul and certain TV channels for airing his interview 48 hours before Gujarat voted in the second phase. The Congress has gone on to challenge the neutrality of the EC and the BJP has fired yet another salvo with a fresh set of complaints against the Congress.
The EC notice was issued for violation of Para 1(4) of the Model Code of Conduct along with Section 126 (1) (b) of the Representation of People Act, 1951. The latter comes with penalty provisions saying a violation “shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both”.
These rules deal with prohibition of public meetings during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the end of voting.
Officials in the know say that the applicability of Section 126 of the RP Act to Rahul Gandhi will depend chiefly on when and where this interview was recorded.
If the interview was recorded before 13 December by the TV channel, the Congress leader is unlikely to be penalised as he may be seen as having given an interview in good faith when it was allowed while the TV channel may have played truant. All campaign in Gujarat was to end on the evening of 12 December — 48 hours before the second phase of voting.
However, if Rahul is proved to have given the interview on 13 December, he might find himself in a sticky situation for violating the rule book. He has been asked to respond to the EC notice by 5 pm on 18 December.
While Rahul Gandhi may just escape the wrath of the EC, it is near certain that the media houses will not. According to established procedure, the media house is fully responsible for airing anything that qualifies as ‘election matter’ likely to influence voters 48 hours before polls. No exit poll is permitted as well before polling concludes.
The airing of Rahul Gandhi’s interview with references to Gujarat and in areas that voted on 14 December is most likely to attract strong action from the EC.
While the main complaint is against Gujarat Samachar channel, there are other channels which took the interview feed and aired it. They are also likely to be held liable for violation of the electoral rules.
There is enough and strong precedent as well.
The Election Commission had editors of Dainik Jagran booked earlier this year during the Uttar Pradesh election for violating the poll code. In 2007, complaints were lodged against NDTV on EC orders for broadcasting an exit poll and electoral projections even as voting was on.