Punjab polls: Phones ringing with messages, videos as parties buzz at last minute during quiet period

Silence is golden, the old saying goes, but it is something that political parties in Punjab do not seem or want to understand as they violated the 48-hour silence period granted by the Election Commission. ahead of Sunday’s poll.

The “quiet period”, by EC standards, begins immediately after the end of the campaign before an election. During this period, candidates and parties are expected to remain “silent” and stop all forms of campaigning.

On Saturday, however, less than 12 hours after the curtains on the high voltage canvassing, voters in Punjab were exposed to several types of campaign material as mass messages, asking them to vote for a particular party, were received. on their WhatsApp and other social media platforms. On WhatsApp, messages in the form of graphics, videos, etc. came from random numbers. Candidates also continued to post campaign material on their social media in one form or another. Voters said most of the materials they received on WhatsApp asked them not to vote for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

For example, one voter shared, “I received a WhatsApp message that had a graphic with the slogan ‘Aisa koi saga nahi, jisko Kejri ne thaga nahi..’ and it had pictures of all the AAP leaders. who left the party.

Some voters said they also received information on the “Sikhs for Justice” messaging platform from designated terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, saying the AAP supports pro-Khalistan elements.

Mocking the AAP’s election slogan ‘Ik Mauka Kejriwal nu’, some videos were also received by voters who had the song ‘Mauka, mauka.. mauka de ditta ohna nu, milega dhoka dhoka…'” The video showed also AAP workers wearing caps and holding brooms,” said a Ludhiana resident.

Some voters also received a video with an SMS containing the alleged “leaked audio clip” of Sunita Kejriwal, wife of AAP official Arvind Kejriwal. Later that evening, the party filed a complaint with the Elections Commission alleging the video was “false, doctored and tampered with” and demanded its immediate removal from all social media platforms and “to take legal action.” justice against the person responsible in accordance with the law in force”. of Justice”.

Voters were also inundated with random messages with alleged videos of SAD chairman Sukhbir Singh Badal with a ‘vote call’ saying it was the only party that belonged to Punjab and all were ‘outsiders’ and “remote controlled from Delhi”.

The video was also accompanied by graphic messages and photos of Sukhbir which read “Sadda iraada sudhar da vaada” and “Badal karega badlaav”.

Without naming anyone, Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi posted a series of tweets from his official handle comparing himself to CM candidates from other parties. ‘Public sab jaan di hai… A CM face that works hard day and night, a CM face that drinks day and night, a CM face that plunders people who work hard day and night…. a CM face that represents Punjab and Punjabis, a CM face that represents Delhi, a CM face that represents mafiaraj,” he tweeted.

Requesting anonymity, some district-level returning officers said Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, which deals with campaign rules for a 48-hour period before voting, does not specify the rules. for social media and other digital platforms.

“Social media and WhatsApp have become prominent vehicles for campaigning in these elections due to Covid, but the RPA law is quite old and it needs updating on social media specific rules and other platforms such as WhatsApp. However, if an opposing party files a complaint alleging a violation, we take action immediately,” a returning officer said.

Article 126 (b) of the RPA law relating to the “prohibition of public meetings for a period of forty-eight hours ending at the time fixed for the conclusion of the ballot”, stipulates: No one shall display in the public an electoral matter by means of cinematograph, television or other similar devices.

Contacted, Dr S Karuna Raju, Chief Electoral Officer of Punjab, said, “We refer to Section 126 of the PR Act and action will be taken in accordance with the Act relating to any type of campaign complaint and violation code of conduct during the quiet period.

On February 14, the Election Commission, in a memo, said: “…Section 126 prohibits the display of any electoral content by means of, among other things, television or similar devices, during the 48-hour period ending at the time fixed for the conclusion of the ballot. in a constituency.

Article 126 also defines “election matter” as something “intended or calculated to influence or affect the outcome of an election”.

He also reiterated that electronic media – television, radio stations, cable networks, websites, social media platforms – should ensure that the content they broadcast during the silent period does not contain any material “that could be construed as favoring or prejudicing the prospect of a particular party or candidate or influencing/affecting the outcome of the election”.

John C. Dent