Karnataka polls: EC notice to Congress on ‘rate card’ ads against BJP

It asked the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president to "convey the empirical evidence of the same".

DK Shivakumar, Karnataka polls 2023
Karnataka Congress president DK Shivakumar addressing in a poll rally in Tumakuru, Karnataka. Photo: Twitter/Karnataka Congress

The Election Commission (EC) has issued a notice to the Karnataka Congress over its “corruption rate card” advertisements published in newspapers targeting the BJP, and sought “empirical evidence” to prove its allegations by Sunday evening (May 7).

The notice was issued on Saturday (May 6) following a complaint lodged by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Citing provisions of the model code of conduct (MCC), Representation of the People Act and the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the panel said it appears “prima facie” that the Congress has “violated” provision of the model code by publishing the advertisement.

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Ahead of the May 10 Assembly polls in Karnataka, the Congress released a set of posters and advertisements listing “corruption rates” in the state, between 2019 and 2023, while terming the BJP government a “trouble engine”.

“It is a fair assumption that INC possesses the material/empirical/verifiable evidence based on which these specific/explicit facts have been published, an action which can fairly be assessed to embed knowledge, motive and intent to do so by the author,” the Election Commission (EC) notice read.

It asked the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president to “convey the empirical evidence of the same, for example, the evidences for rates for kinds of appointments and transfers, kinds of jobs and kinds of commission mentioned in the advertisement given by you along with if any explanation, by 19.00 hrs on 7th May 2023, and also put that in public domain”.

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It said if the party fails to share the evidence, it has to show reasons as to “why action should not be initiated against you for violating the model code of conduct and relevant legal provisions under the Representation of the People Act and IPC, by 7 pm on May 7”.

The poll panel further said that the criticism of the policy and governance of opponent parties is a right guaranteed under the Constitution as well as an essential function of various political actors under the Indian electoral process.

“However, while exercising this right and performing this essential function, various political parties are expected to uphold high standards of public discourse and adhere to various provisions of MCC and relevant laws,” it said.

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While general references and allusions to the alleged lack of achievement, misdeeds, not ensuring corruption-free governance of political opponents, do float in political campaigns, specific accusations and charges need to be segregated as the same must be backed by verifiable facts, it observed.

“Making specific charges, without any factual basis, is an action proscribed by the penal statues… without any corresponding informational verification vitiates the electoral process by disturbing level playing field by potentially misleading the elector, marring the exercise of making informed choices,” the poll watchdog said.

The allegations and imputations made in the advertisement were not general, the EC said.

“The advertisement, in its very content and format, makes very specific charges, accusing all levels of government machinery (political and bureaucratic) of being, compromised and saleable. This brings into disrepute the entire administration, which has the potential of fomenting a feeling of distrust and undermining the legitimacy of the governance system at large, which otherwise, inter-alia, is vital for the smooth conduct of the poll itself,” it pointed out.