Warns Congress vice-president to be more careful in his speeches; Gujarat Chief Minister has to explain "bloodied hand" remark by Saturday

Expressing “displeasure” at portions of speeches made by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at Churu in Rajasthan and at Indore in Madhya Pradesh, the Election Commission (EC) on Wednesday advised him “to be more circumspect” in his “public utterances” during election campaigns.

Simultaneously, observing that BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi had prima facie violated the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) with his “khooni panja” (bloodied hand) barb on the Congress party’s election symbol, the Commission served a notice to explain by the evening of November 16 why action should not be taken against him.

The notice to Mr. Modi followed a Congress petition three days ago over his “khooni panja” and “jalim haathon” (cruel hands) remarks at an election rally in Chhattisgarh. The Congress approached the Commission a fortnight after the BJP sought stern action against Mr. Gandhi for his “inflammatory” election rally speeches.

Critical of Mr. Gandhi’s statement that the Pakistani spy agency, Inter Services Intelligence, was trying to contact relatives of some of the victims of the recent Muzaffarnagar riots, the BJP in its complaint had said “the entire tone and tenor of Sh. Gandhi’s speech was to incite communal hatred and tension.” The BJP had also taken offence at Mr. Gandhi accusing the party of indulging in divisive politics by stoking communal tensions in Muzaffarnagar and Gujarat.

While the Election Commission “acknowledges the underlying intention and spirit of your [Mr. Gandhi’s] impugned speeches to foster and promote communal harmony” it took exception to their tone, tenor and content. According to the Commission, his accusations that the BJP was creating communal tensions in various places and riot victims were being misled by the ISI “were not in consonance with the letter and spirit” of the MCC.

In his detailed reply to the EC, Mr. Gandhi contended he had been selectively quoted in the BJP complaint. “Read in their entirety, my speeches criticise the policies and programme, past record and work of the BJP.” This, according to him, is “fully within the scope of legitimate political criticism” permitted by the MCC. Quoting a passage from the “guiding philosophy” of the BJP posted on its website, Mr. Gandhi sought to drive home the point that “the BJP is a party that is built on the ideological plank of dividing the people of India on the basis of religion.”

As for the complaint against his references to “the attempt of foreign forces inimical to our country to mislead some youth” who had lost family members in the Muzaffarnagar riots, Mr. Gandhi’s contention was that his intention was “only to alert the nation to the real risk that communal violence... creates space for enemies of the nation to work against us.”