BJP may cite a Congress `precedent' in its defence

NEW DELHI, APRIL 19. The Bharatiya Janata Party has begun preparations to respond to the Election Commission's notice asking why action should not be initiated against the party for violation of the model code of conduct in the Lucknow episode. Senior leaders are of the view that the party has not crossed the `lakshman rekha.'

The show-cause notice was issued in connection with the stampede during the distribution of free saris in the Prime Minister's constituency, Lucknow, in which 22 women and 2 children died. Simultaneously, the Commission ordered that a first information report be registered against the senior BJP leader in the State, Lalji Tandon, for trying to bribe poor women to further the party's electoral prospects. The order has since been carried out.

A senior party leader said today that the BJP planned to quote in its own defence the ``precedent'' of the Congress party organising mass feeding programmes for the poor after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. A number of election petitions were filed against the programmes. They were rejected by two separate High Courts and the Supreme Court later upheld the rejection.

``It seems that the law in these cases is well laid out. There are precedents,'' a senior BJP leader said, pointing to ``similarities'' in ``feeding the poor'' to observe the death anniversary of a leader and ``distribution of saris'' to celebrate another's birthday.

The party is veering round to the view that it will be able to absolve itself of any wrongdoing in the Lucknow event. Party leaders, however, said the death of women and children in the stampede was certainly unfortunate.

In fact, the BJP has gone to the extent of saying that any punishment meted out to the party would be ``destructive of parliamentary democracy'' because political parties could be held accountable for a wrong done by ``individual party members in their individual capacity.''

It was explained to some reporters that ``apart from sari distribution,'' the events to celebrate Mr. Tandon's birthday included ``cleaning of the Gomti river'' and a ``kavi sammelan'' (poetry reading event).

The party expressed the view that ``feeding of the poor'' by Congress party workers after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination — which took place when the election process was on — was ``similar'' to the ``distribution of saris'' by some BJP workers ``in their individual capacity.'' Since no electoral offence was made out in the courts in the first case, the party was sure that the BJP had not violated any code of conduct in the Lucknow case too.

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