Election Commission Takes Note of Rahul Gandhi’s Remarks, Initiates Inquiry into ‘Panauti’ and ‘Pickpocket’ Comments Against PM Modi
On Thursday, the Election Commission (EC) served a show-cause notice to Rahul Gandhi, a prominent figure in the Congress party. The notice pertains to his recent remarks targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, where he used terms like Panauti “pickpocket,” and criticised the concept of loan waiver for the super rich. The EC has called for a response from Gandhi by Saturday, urging him to provide clarification on the aforementioned statements.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in its approach to the poll panel, expressed concern over the language used by the former Congress president. They argued that it was inappropriate for a leader of his stature to employ such language, emphasising the need for decorum in political discourse.
The Election Commission (EC) reiterated to Gandhi the provisions of the Model Code of Conduct, emphasising the prohibition against making unverified allegations against political opponents. Gandhi had employed the words in question during recent rallies in Rajasthan, a state gearing up for elections.
In response to the BJP’s representation to the EC, challenging the accuracy of the claim regarding industrialist waivers amounting to ₹14,00,000 crore over the last nine years, the EC notice highlighted that the term “panauti” seemingly falls within the scope of the prohibition outlined in section 123 of the Representation of the People Act.
This section addresses corrupt practices, and Clause 2, sub-section (ii) of section 123 specifically addresses the act of inducing a candidate or elector to believe that divine displeasure or spiritual censure may befall them or someone in whom they are interested. The notice served to Gandhi reminded him of the potential interference with the free exercise of electoral rights as outlined in the Act.
Gandhi aimed the “panauti” remark at Modi during a Rajasthan poll speech, citing the prime minister’s attendance at the World Cup cricket final, which India lost to Australia after a streak of 10 consecutive wins. The term “panauti,” a Hindi slang loosely translating to someone bringing bad luck, was used to express this sentiment.
In another instance, Gandhi employed the “pickpocket” analogy in a poll speech, alleging that Modi distracts the public while industrialist Gautam Adani takes advantage of the situation, akin to how pickpockets operate. This statement prompted the Election Commission’s notice.
Additionally, the notice referred to a general advisory from the EC expressing concerns about the declining standards of political discourse during election campaigns. It also brought to Gandhi’s attention a Supreme Court observation, noting that while Article 19(1)(a) protects freedom of speech and expression, Article 21 recognizes the right to reputation as an integral part of the right to life. The commission emphasised the constitutional necessity of balancing these two rights.
Supriya Sule came to Rahul Gandhi’s defence, describing him as a resilient fighter in the face of the poll body’s notice regarding the “panauti” remark.
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MP Supriya Sule rallied behind Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, characterising him as a formidable fighter. Sule expressed confidence that Gandhi would deliver a response to the Election Commission’s notice with both dignity and honesty. The notice pertained to Gandhi’s use of the terms “Jaibkatra” (pickpocket) and “Panauti” in reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an election rally. Sule’s assurance conveyed a belief in Gandhi’s ability to address the situation in a manner that reflects both integrity and respect.
The Congress leader remarked, “Ache bhale hamare ladke waha pe World Cup jeet jaate, par panauti harwa diya (Our boys could have won the World Cup there, but the ‘bad omen’ made them lose).” Subsequently, the Election Commission of India (ECI) issued a show-cause notice to Rahul Gandhi concerning his statements, including “panauti,” “Jaibkatra” (pickpocket), and remarks about loan waivers targeting PM Modi. The ECI requested a response from the Congress leader by Saturday evening.