‘District Magistrate denied permission to Modi’s rally on professional advice’

Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath on Thursday maintained that the Election Commission has always given due regard to grievances of political parties and will continue to do so in the future.

Clearing the air on the controversy over denial of permission to the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, to hold a rally in Varanasi, Mr. Sampath, along with his two colleagues, said the commission cannot be expected to act on complaints of parties without verification or investigation.

“We are conducting an election and not contesting against other candidates,” he shot back when asked why the commission had taken so long to respond to allegations of partisanship.

“The Election Commission is a body created under the Constitution and one of the pillars of democracy. The Constitution has given enough powers to the commission to perform its duties boldly and impartially,” he said.

Mr. Sampath contended that enforcing the electoral law and the model code of conduct judiciously, rigorously and in a non-partisan manner was a challenging task.

Asserting that there was no merit in the allegations of “lack of neutrality,” he said: “The EC has satisfaction in the job it has been doing, and we will continue to do so to uphold the Constitution. The credibility, neutrality and impartiality of the EC are a national heritage.”

He said a prescribed procedure should be followed for single-window clearance for rallies, and from the announcement of the election schedule on March 5, 3,000 rallies had been granted permission.

Explaining the sequence of events leading to the controversial rally, Mr. Sampath said the District Magistrate denied permission on the “basis of professional advice” on security-related concerns and there was no need to “deviate” from it.

“When security and suitability issues are involved, the Election Commission naturally will go by the professional advice taken at the district level,” he said.

Mr. Sampath said despite its preoccupation with the eighth phase of polling on Wednesday, the commission looked into the complaints of the BJP on the Returning Officer, Varanasi, and wrote a detailed letter explaining why the official could not be faulted. The commission was not guided by the version of the District Magistrate alone; it had consulted the Chief Secretary and the Director-General of Police, who endorsed the security and suitability aspects, including the capacity of the ground (venue).

Jaitley u-turn

Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley, who has been campaigning in Varanasi for the past two days, was stinging in his offensive against the commission.

In a statement earlier in the day, he said: “I cannot conceal my disappointment with the Election Commission. Men in constitutional offices need to be bolder. Timid men can dwarf high offices.”

However, two hours after the press conference, Mr. Jaitley welcomed the reaffirmation of the commission of its independence and commitment towards conducting a free and fair election.

‘Not targeting panel’

Earlier, a delegation of senior BJP leaders led by former party president M. Venkaiah Naidu and Ravi Shankar Prasad met officials of the commission and conveyed that they were not targeting the panel.