- Armed forces "apolitical, neutral stakeholders in democracy": Poll panel
- Billboards featuring BJP leaders with Abhinandan Varthaman seen in Delhi
- Many BJP leaders attributed the IAF pilot's release to PM Modi's efforts
Asserting that the armed forces are "apolitical and neutral stakeholders in a modern democracy", the Election Commission on Saturday asked political parties across the country to not use photographs of defence personnel on hoardings or posters in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls.
The notice, which was sent to all the parties concerned, was issued after billboards featuring BJP leaders such as Narendra Modi and Amit Shah along with Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman came up in certain parts of the national capital. "Everything is possible under PM Modi," the billboards read.
The exact words were Modi hai toh mumkin hai, which -- incidentally -- happens to be the BJP's slogan this election season.
Wing Commander Varthaman was captured by Pakistani authorities after an aerial dogfight with India on February 27, but returned two days later. Many BJP leaders, including Union Minister Smriti Irani, attributed his near-immediate release to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's efforts.
Dear Election Commission of India:- Yogendra Yadav (@_YogendraYadav) March 9, 2019
Is this permissible?
Using photograph of a serving soldier in political posters?
If not, will you act against it? pic.twitter.com/IiGUkphZWM
The Election Commission, in its notice, drew the parties' attention to a letter dated December 4, 2013, that gave reasons for not using the armed forces in poll campaigns. "It is pertinent to mention here that the Armed Forces of a nation are the guardian of its frontiers, security and the political system. They are apolitical and neutral stakeholders in a modern democracy. It is therefore necessary that political parties and leaders exercise great caution while making any reference to the Armed Forces in their political campaigns," an extract from the earlier notice noted.
"The Commission accordingly calls upon all political parties to advise their candidates/leaders to desist from displaying photographs of Defence personnel or photographs of functions involving Defence personnel in advertisements or otherwise as part of their election propaganda/campaigning," it added, demanding strict compliance from the parties concerned.
Soon after Wing Commander Varthaman's release, Union Minister Smriti Irani had credited his return after two days to the "valour of an RSS volunteer", in an apparent reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "Today, the Sangh can be proud of the fact that a son of India is returning to India in 48 hours due to the parakram (valour) of a swayamsevak (RSS volunteer)," news agency PTI quoted Ms Irani as saying at a book launch on March 1. Other leaders also made a similar claim amid opposition allegations that the BJP-led centre was politicising the situation.