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Grand alliance seeks ban on ‘Mann Ki Baat’ till Bihar polls get over

Mann ki baat

New Delhi:  The anti-BJP grand alliance today approached the Election Commission seeking suspension of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Mann Ki Baat’ programme till Bihar polls are over, raising doubts he might use it to influence voters, but the poll panel indicated a “blanket ban” cannot be imposed.

A delegation of the three-party alliance comprising JD(U), RJD and Congress met the Election Commission with the plea to stop broadcast of the Prime Minister’s monthly radio programme.

“Permitting the Prime Minister to organise the Mann Ki Baat programme would be giving a completely unfair advantage to BJP and will upset the level playing field, essential to uphold the neutrality and majesty of the electoral process,” it said in its petition.

“Even otherwise, BJP and its Union government has been misusing government’s machinery, instances of which have already been brought out to the notice of the Commission,” it said.

Though the poll watch dog is yet to firm up its decision on the petition, EC sources said     no “blanket ban” can be imposed on the programme and that it can take “cognizance” of any such demand only if its contents violate the model code.

“No blanket ban can be enforced on things like Cabinet meeting and Mann ki baat but the EC can take cognizance if the Cabinet decision or the content of programme is in violation of the Model Code of Conduct,” a senior EC official said.

The petition said the programme was “essentially political” with Prime Minister giving out his thought on various political and governance issues.

The delegation comprising Congress’ communications department chief Randeep Surjewala, spokesman Abhishek Singhvi, JD(U) general secretary K C Tyagi, its Rajya Sabha MP Pavan Verma and RJD spokesperson Manoj Jha said this telecast by a political party in power is not permissible when the Model Code of Conduct is in force.

The BJP criticised the rival alliance, saying it has objection to everything that the Prime Minister does.

The leaders of the grand alliance, however, alleged that the Prime Minister was “misusing” the official media to influence voters in Bihar which will see a five-phase poll starting October 12 to November 5.

“This gives a direct advantage to the BJP at the expense of public exchequer…broadcast of such programme will infringe on the various instructions issued by the Commission,” they argued.

Talking to reporters after meeting the poll body, Surjewala said, “The Mann Ki Baat programme on Septmeber 20 is a gross violation of the Model Code of Conduct. In order to influence the voters, the Prime Minister is misusing the government-run mass-media namely All India Radio (AIR), Doordarshan and other channels which broadcast and telecast the programme.

“We have requested the Election Commission that until the last phase of the Bihar polls gets over, Mann Ki Baat should be banned,”.

RJD spokesperson Manoj Jha said since Modi is the face of BJP for Bihar elections and its key campaigner, he cannot be allowed to use the government machinery for party’s benefit in the election. He said using the official radio during the polls is a clear “violation” of the Model Code of Conduct.

“During election time, if Prime Minister can use the Hindi Day forum to give a political speech, he can go to any extent. Nobody should be allowed to use the public exchequer for the benefit of any political party. You cannot have a level playing field by using the government machinery during the polls,” Jha said.

Tyagi said Modi does not miss a single opportunity to attack his opponents even when he is on an official tour abroad. He said till the polls get over, the PM should keep his “Mann Ki Baat to himself”.

“When the PM addresses Mann Ki Baat programme on September 20, he will certainly announce a new programme or a policy, which will be against the Model Code of Conduct. The Election Commission has responded positively to our grievance and said it will look into the matter,” he said.

Singhvi said under the model code use of government machinery for electoral gains is prohibited.

“We have put forth all the points before the Election Commission and we are hopeful that it will look into the issue,” he said.

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