Truth vs Hype: Political ads or religious appeals?

In what is becoming an increasingly polarised election campaign, the focus so far has been on provocative speeches with strong communal undertones made by key leaders. (India Votes 2014: full coverage)

But what has slipped under the radar is a far more widespread and no less disturbing phenomenon, of a deluge of political ads in Urdu newspapers, which, as NDTV's show Truth vs Hype found, make barely concealed - and in some cases, open - appeals for the Muslim vote, showing a casual disregard for election laws, which forbid any appeal on grounds of religion.

The most shocking instance is of a fatwa in the leading Urdu daily "Inquilab" against Ashutosh, the Aam Aadmi Party candidate from Chandni Chowk, issued by a Maulana Naeem ur Qadri, described as the City Qazi with Lucknow's well known Firangi Mahal seminary.
The fatwa, which appeared a day before Delhi went to vote, says that Ashutosh, in his blogs, has spoken in support of anti-Islamic voices like Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen, and that no Muslim will accept this even at the price of death. It warns that any Muslim who votes for AAP should think of consequences.

Ashutosh denied making any anti-Muslim statements, saying this was an attempt by his rivals to sabotage his election.

On the pages of the Sahara Urdu is a blatant appeal on religious grounds issued by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, one of India's leading Islamic organisations, which asks Muslims to vote for Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader Ajit Singh who is contesting from the Baghpat seat in western Uttar Pradesh.

The head of the Jamiat is Maulana Mahmood Madani, who was a Rajya Sabha member of the RLD.

A day after the Election Commission announced polls, ads appeared in the Sahara Urdu, as well as other Urdu papers, featuring Sonia, Rahul Gandhi, Ahmed Patel, and Minorities Minster K Rahman Khan, congratulating the UPA cabinet for one of its last decisions, handing over 123 prime properties in Delhi to the Waqf Board.

The ad is a not-so-subtle targeting of minority votes, and also comes close to violating a ban on publicising government achievements once the Election Commission's Model Code of Conduct is in place. It escapes doing that because it is issued by three obscure Muslim organisations - All India Milli Mehaz, Peace Foundation and Muslim Youth Foundation of India - and not a political party or candidate.

Shahid Siddique, former MP and editor of the Urdu weekly Nai Duniya says that he has not heard of these groups and alleges that the ad has clearly been issued by the Congress.

The Bahujan Samaj Party's Muslim candidates from Delhi do not even bother with proxies. Shakeel Saifi, a BSP candidate from East Delhi, whose ads are splashed on the front page of every Urdu newspaper, asks for "people of the same faith" to vote for the BSP.

Another BSP candidate Haji Abdul Sami, contesting from North East Delhi, asks the "brotherhood of the faith" to vote for him in his ads.

Vijay Dev, the Chief Electoral Officer of Delhi says that they will study these ads, and if they are found guilty of violating election laws, those behind them will face strong action, perhaps even criminal charges.
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