Invoking the provisions of the Religious Institutions (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1988, the Election Commission of India refused to allow political conferences during the festivals of Holi and Hola Mohalla. Political parties and candidates were “advised” not to use religious places and occasions for election purposes.
However, the ruling has not gone not go down well with the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), both of which had announced their decisions to organise conferences during the Hola Mohalla festival at Anandpur Sahib, while the Congress had decided to stay away this year.
The conferences were scheduled for Sunday during the almost week-long festival.
Addressing a gathering at the Akali Dal’s pandal, which had already been set up, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said the restriction was more draconian than the withdrawal of civil liberties during the Emergency. He said that though the party would abide by the directive of the Commission, the decision was taken at the instance of the Congress, which had panicked as it had read the hostile sentiments of the people on the eve of the Lok Sabha election.
As he occupied an important public position, the Chief Minister said that Akali Dal would not give out its programme on the occasion of Hola Mohalla. However, he added that it would have been better if all political parties had organised their conferences as was the tradition. Prior to the Chief Minister’s brief address, the party’s venue was used for “Kirtan Darbar.”
AAP’s leader Himmat Singh Shergill, who was coordinating the Hola Mohalla conference, said that the Act related to activities within the premises of the religious institutions only. He said that it was not within the purview of the ECI to expand the scope of the law and implement it on festivals too.
Mr. Shergill claimed that the permission granted to the AAP by the Deputy Commission of Ropar district was withdrawn at the eleventh hour. He said that funds for organising the conference, which were collected through individual donations from party workers, activists and supporters, were wasted.
Previously, the Akali Dal had submitted a memorandum to Punjab’s Chief Electoral Officer, V.K. Singh, informing that it had rented the spot after paying the requisite fees to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). The spot was not within the complex of the Gurdwara Takhat Keshgarh Sahib and was used by the SGPC as a parking space only. The SGPC, which did not use it for religious purposes, also rented out portion of the ground to hundreds of shopkeepers, who carried out commercial activity during the festival.
On the other hand, the Congress party had petitioned the Election Commission to prevent the Akali Dal from using a religious place for political purposes. The party had demanded that in case the Commission allowed the event, the Akali conference should be videographed.