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PM Modi’s big reveal on how Congress benefitted from Rajiv Gandhi’s death, how the ECI flouted rules and postponed entire polling process instead of just his seat

“You [Congress] are talking about the election commission. And that’s why the justice being done will not seem a level playing field to Congress since they have so far taken the benefit of special category and favours…” the Prime Minister added.

On the 23rd of May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a scathing attack on the Congress recalling the 1991 Lok Sabha elections after Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge recently said that the BJP is not providing a “level playing field” in the ongoing Lok Sabha polls. Kharge in a PTI interview asked why opposition leaders including JMM’s Hemant Soren and AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal were arrested during elections. The Congress party recently accused the Election Commission of inclining towards the BJP.

In an interview with IndiaTV, the Prime Minister responded to the Congress party’s allegations pertaining to the “level playing field”. PM Modi while rejecting the allegations recalled the 1991 Lok Sabha elections. PM Modi recalled how the then-Chief Election Commissioner TN Seshan postponed polling across the country for 22 days after Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi was killed in Sriperumbudur on the 21st of May 1991, with only one round of voting conducted. The elections were postponed until mid-June, and voting resumed on 12 and 15 June.

It is notable here that Rajiv Gandhi was not even the PM at that time, but a Congress leader and a candidate for the Lok Sabha elections.

“Was that a level-playing field? Normally, when a candidate dies, the election in his constituency is adjourned and conducted on a later date. However, in 1991, election across the country was postponed, Congress was provided 21-22 days, and polling dates were given only after the funeral of Rajiv Gandhi and his ashes were toured across the country, what level playing field was it? And later he [the then-CEC TN Seshan] fought against [Lal Krishna] Advani ji on a Congress ticket,” PM Modi said.

“You [Congress] are talking about the election commission. And that’s why the justice being done will not seem a level playing field to Congress since they have so far taken the benefit of special category and favours…” the Prime Minister added.

How the Election Commission facilitated Congress’s poll campaign after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination

While the Election Commission of that time should have cancelled the polling on the Amethi seat from where Rajiv Gandhi was contesting, the ECI postponed the elections across the country flouting the rules. Thus, giving ample time to the Congress party to benefit from the sympathy wave across the country.

Such was Congress’s hold on the ‘system’ that the ECI cancelled the Lok Sabha election entirely instead of just in Amethi when Rajiv Gandhi was no longer the Prime Minister. At that time, Gandhi was just a Congress candidate contesting against BJP’s Ravindra Pratap Singh.

The exit polls of that time also suggest how Rajiv Gandhi’s death generated a sympathy wave in favour of Congress and the postponement of elections by the ECI allowed a window for the party to encash the outpouring of sympathy. Media reports from 1991 show the dramatic surge in voter turnout and swing towards the Congress. 211 seats were polled before Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination and 332 seats after. The Congress(I) lost 5.7% of the vote in the first round of voting in May but gained 1.6% in the second round in June. Conspicuously, the assassination played a significant role in enhancing Congress(I) voter turnout.

Source: IndiaToday

After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination by LTTE terrorists, Bihar’s 6% swing against the Congress(I) in the first phase turned into a 1.8% swing in its support in the second phase. In Madhya Pradesh, turnout increased from 42% to 49%, and the Congress(I) gained more than 4%. Rajasthan had the most dramatic shift in Congress(I) fortunes between the two rounds of voting. From a minor 2% swing in its favour, the Congress(I) saw a tremendous 14% swing in the June round.

The Congress with its allies won 256 seats with 38.1% of the vote, followed by the Third Front with 133 seats (27.1%). The BJP and its allies with 124 seats (20.9%). Congress received the highest 36.4% vote share followed by BJP, Janata Dal, CPM, and so on.

Partywise vote share percentage in 1991 Lok Sabha elections (Source: IndiaVotes)

CEC TN Sheshan and Rajiv Gandhi

It is pertinent to note that the then-Chief Election Commissioner TN Seshan was very close to Rajiv Gandhi. In his autobiography “Through the Broken Glass” Seshan talked about having been friends with Rajiv Gandhi. He had even advised Rajiv Gandhi to include former PMs and their families as protectees when the SPG Act (1988-89) was being drafted. Later, in 1999, TN Seshan contested on a Congress ticket against BJP veteran Lal Krishna Advani from the Gandhinagar seat and lost.

The Congress party is now lamenting about “level playing field”, just because it is not them “controlling” the playing field anymore. While complaining about the arrest of Hemant Soren and Arvind Kejriwal, who are out on bail for the election campaign, it should reflect on its own past conduct when the Gandhi family and the Congress party used the ‘system’ in their favour at their whims. While the Congress is accusing the ECI now of “not fulfilling its constitutional duty, was it ECI’s constitutional duty to countermand elections across the country instead of doing the same on just Amethi seat after Rajiv Gandhi’s killing?

PM when asked about the timing of the arrest and subsequent incarceration of Hemant Soren arrested in connection to an alleged land scam and Arvind Kejriwal who was arrested over his alleged role in the Delhi liquor scam, said that the two opposition leaders were sent to jail by courts. “We did not send them to jail. The courts sent the two chief ministers to jail. We do not have the power to send someone to jail or keep anybody in jail. Only courts have the powers. Look at what the Supreme Court said,” PM Modi said.

Notably, On 22nd May, the Supreme Court refused to entertain Soren’s plea challenging his arrest saying that Soren was pursuing parallel remedies by submitting this bail application while also appealing the HC ruling on the legal validity of the arrest.

Interestingly, much like the EVM-VVPAT blame game, the  Congress party’s attacks on the Election Commission accusing it of being biased only reflects the party’s frustration and fear of failing to defeat the BJP-led NDA.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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