India’s poll panel orders Modi’s BJP, opposition Congress to show restraint in campaign

By Thomson Reuters May 22, 2024 | 6:48 AM

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s election panel on Wednesday ordered the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and opposition Congress to exercise restraint in their campaigns, after both had reported the other for making divisive speeches during India’s vote.

The panel said the parties’ defences for the speeches by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi were “not tenable” and issued notices to the presidents of both groups.

In their complaints to the Election Commission, the BJP accused Gandhi and Congress accused Modi of making divisive speeches on religion, caste and linguistic issues.

India is holding the world’s largest election over seven phases, with votes due to be counted on June 4.

The Congress accused Modi of seeking votes in the name of religion by saying in recent speeches that Congress would seize and redistribute the wealth of India’s majority Hindus among minority Muslims, whom he referred to as “infiltrators” and those who have “more children” last month.

Modi later denied targeting Muslims in his campaign. Congress denied making any election promise on wealth redistribution.

The commission directed BJP and its star campaigners to “refrain from any campaigning” along religious or communal lines.

About 80% of India’s 1.4 billion people are Hindus but it also has the world’s third largest Muslim population of roughly 200 million people.

The BJP accused Gandhi and Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge of creating enmity among disadvantaged Hindu and tribal groups by saying that the BJP discriminates against them and would abolish the Indian constitution if it wins the election.

The commission directed that Congress campaigners should not give “false impression” that the constitution could be “abolished or sold”.

It also said in notices to the two parties that it found their defences on these speeches “not tenable”, adding that it noted with “concern” that their campaigners had continued to make such speeches.

It ordered the parties to “refrain from making any statement” prohibited under the election Model Code of Conduct.

(Reporting by Shivam Patel in New Delhi; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)