The Election Commission on Sunday dismissed claims that its tweet using India’s armed forces to urge people to vote had violated its own Model Code of Conduct, reported NDTV. The poll panel said the code applied to political parties and not in this case.
In a tweet posted on Saturday, the poll panel appealed to people to vote ahead of the fourth phase of voting in West Bengal. “They sacrifice for their country. Can’t you even vote for the country?” it read. “Vote is not only your right, but also your duty. Cast your vote fearlessly.” The tweet also showed cartoonist RK Laxman’s cartoon character “The Common Man” paying a tribute to the soldiers’ memorial.
The Election Commission defended the use of the advertisement. “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, according to NDTV. “Kindly see the text of the ad. [It says] 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.”
A senior Election Commission official said the intention of the poll panel was different. “First, the silhouette used here is not just meant for the armed forces, it is supposed to signify the police forces, too,” the unidentified officer told The Indian Express. “Moreover, we are not politicising the armed forces for electoral gains. Our purpose is to exhort voters to come out and vote.”
The Election Commission’s advisories do not allow references to the armed forces. The poll panel has in the past urged parties to “desist from displaying photographs of defence personnel or photographs of functions involving defence personnel in advertisements, or otherwise as part of their election propaganda/campaign”, according to The Indian Express.
The poll panel’s first advisory was released in December 2013, and it was reasserted in March 2019, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. According to the Election Commission, the armed forces are “apolitical” and “neutral stakeholders” in a modern democracy and therefore should not be referred to during the polls.