Bearing the brunt of attacks of being biased by the BJP for not giving clearance to Narendra Modi's rally at Beniya Bagh in Varanasi on May 8, the Election Commission on Friday said the district magistrate or the Returning Officer should have avoided delay in taking a decision. "The unfortunate incident happened because of purely operational problem. Delay did happen in giving permission. It should have been avoided at the local RO's level. Why escalate it to a high level if work can be done at the local level. The RO could have been prompt in conveying a categorical yes or no," said election commissioner, HS Brahma.
But going by Brahma's argument the election commission could also be put at fault in deciding the matter late as BJP leader Arun Jaitley, apparently, had conveyed the EC about the rally on May 7 afternoon but the EC took the decision and said no past midnight. The decision according to BJP reached Jaitely on May 8 at 2 am.
However, Brahma did confirm that the decision had the bearing of a senior Gujarat police official who had come with the advance liaison team to inspect the place of the rally and said it was not desirable to hold the rally at this place. "I won't name the officer but he did flag the issue about the place that was one of the reasons behind denying permission," Brahma added.
Sharpened attacks by the BJP, especially after the 7th phase of polling, has left the Election commission worried.
Chief election commissioner, VS Sampath did not mince words when without naming any party he deplored the attempts to cast aspersions on a constitutional body and even said such insinuation can harm a completely neutral institution badly in the long run.
"The Commission is not afraid of anyone, any political party or any entity in discharging its duties it has always been discharging in a very forthright manner. There is no question of any bias," Sampath added.
The Commission, however, chose to sit quiet on Friday and did not respond to Jaitely's rebuttal of Sampath that said the party did not accept the reasoning of the Returning Officer endorsed by the Election Commission that rally of Narendra Modi at Beniya Bagh had security repercussions and that the permission was first granted on May 7 and then subsequently revoked as an afterthought.
While conceding that the ongoing elections have been the worst in the recent history as far as violation of the model code of conduct, vitiation of atmosphere and use of hate speeches and money power is concerned, Brahma said he did not agree when Commission is accused of being timid or biased.
"It is all subjective. One can say we have been ruthless in taking decision or someone can say have been milder in taking certain decisions. But in my eyes, the way EC has performed and taken decisions go with the constitutional authority the commission wields," said Brahma.
Upholding Commission's neutrality, Brahma listed action EC took against Amit Shah of BJP and Azam Khan of Samajawadi Party. "We lifted ban on Amit Shah only after he gave a written apology and assured that no such incident will take place in future," clarified Brahma.
The EC also said it is taking a decision on reports that Rahul Gandhi, a candidate from Amethi, had violated rules by going to the polling area inside some booths in the constituency during balloting on May 7 and "not trying to avoid" it. "We are not trying to avoid...the information is coming from 4-5 places. I can tell you honestly that we will take a decision...We have sought for information on this. It either must have come or may be on the way," Brahma added.