The advertisements are estimated to have cost Rs. 5 crores (photo: Scroll.in)
The BJP took out full-page newspaper advertisements extolling the achievements of the Narendra Modi government in the past 8 months and calling on the people of Delhi to vote for the party in the assembly election. The only problem: this was on Friday, one day before polling on Saturday, and technically within the ‘cooling-off’ period during which the Election Commission (EC) says no political party can campaign.
So does a print advertisement equal a political campaign? Apparently there is a little-known loophole in the law – it does not cover the print medium.
Rival party AAP objected to the BJP’s advertisements, claiming that these violated the Model Code of Conduct as they were published on the eve of polling.
“Delhi has seen that every paper has a front page advertisement given by BJP. In my opinion this is clear-cut violation of the EC guidelines and the Model Code of Conduct,” AAP leader Ashutosh said.
But the BJP rejected this, saying that no law was violated as the advertisements came out in newspapers.
The EC, too, did not find anything wrong. “Section 126 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951, bars display to the public any election matter by means of cinematograph, television or other similar apparatus. It is not applicable to the print media,” an EC official told PTI.
That didn’t stop the AAP from fuming. “From where BJP gets money to give front page AD in every newspaper. These ADs are most expensive and costliest”, Ashutosh wrote on Twitter.
“Every paper in Delhi is carrying front page BJP AD. What is the source of money? AAP’s fight is Ag money power,” he declared.
The total cost of the ad campaign has been estimated at Rs 5 crores ($806,000). In a crucial election for the BJP and AAP, it is clear that all stops have clearly been pulled.
However while the letter of the law has not been broken, the spirit of the law may well have been tested by the BJP. There is a reason for the ‘cooling off’ period – to allow voters to make up their mind. By choosing a print blitz during this time, the party may have decided that convincing fence-sitters was worth the risk of upsetting a few voters.
It is up to lawmakers to change the law to include the print medium. That way, next time there would be no surprises for rival parties the morning before polling.