NEW DELHI: A day before polling in Delhi for the second time in two years, the Bharatiya Janata Party has come out with about a dozen full page advertisements across leading newspapers urging Delhiites to vote for BJP.
According to section 126 (1) (b) of Representation of People's Act, 1951, no one can display any "election matter" to the public for 48 hours prior to the conclusion of the poll. The Delhi elections starts on Saturday at 8 am and ends at 6 pm. This means that election advertisements can't be displayed since 6 pm yesterday till the elections end tomorrow.
In fact, Neeraj Bharti, Delhi's Additional Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) even issued a notice to all political parties and media houses dated February 2, cautioning them to follow the law and not broadcast or telecast any political parties.
When HuffPost India contacted the CEO's office to clarify if any law had been broken, senior officers were still deliberating on the issue, and an official statement on the matter is awaited.
Official sources told HuffPost India that as the notice circulated to media houses and political parties mentioned electronic media, specifically "cinematograph, television, or other similar apparatus which may include electronic media like internet, television, cable channels, radio, social & display media, and live media", it wasn't clear if the BJP had broken the rule.
However, sources suggested that since it was "print" media, the BJP was within the model code of conduct for elections. This raises questions on whether political parties are also allowed to publish political ads even on the day of the election, which is tomorrow.
If BJP or any media house violates the law, they could be punished with imprisonment (up to two years) or a fine, or even both.
The law also clearly explains what constitutes "election matter" — it means any "matter" intended or calculated to influence or affect the result of an election. BJP's advertisements on Friday lists out all its achievements in the past eight months, with the tag line "Only progress can save the day, Delhi let Modi lead the way," urging voters to "those who can form and run the government."
The full page advertisement shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP's chief ministerial candidate Kiran Bedi's photographs in the cover of all leading English and Hindi newspapers, asking voters to press the "Kamal button" on the Electronic Voting Machines "and give BJP an absolute majority."
Other smaller advertisements in the newspapers show Modi promising voters in and open letter in Hindi a "world class Delhi that will make you proud."
AAP leader Ashutosh told reporters on Friday, "Today 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."
"My question is that if such ads are not allowed on TV after the campaigning process has ended, why should they be allowed in newspapers? The law should change. If widely circulated papers carry such ads then it will certainly influence minds of people," he said.
BJP's spokesperson GVL Narsimha responded, "AAP's claim that the advertisement is violation of poll code, I believe is ignorance from their side. Either they do not know about the law or Model Code of Conduct or they are making such statements deliberately to remain in news."
"The ad just talks about the positive agenda of BJP which the party wants the public to know. There is no violation of any kind. Such ads can be given till the day of polling."
(with PTI inputs)