The Election Commission’s code of conduct came into effect on October 4, and has diluted the political hues of the season’s Ramlilas and Durga Puja pandals. Organisers are taking special care to steer clear of trouble.
According to the code of conduct, underlined by Chief Electoral Officer Vijay Dev, “religious platforms cannot be used to induce voters.” Following this announcement, showcause notices were issued to political leaders for displaying their names and photographs at Ramlila venues. As many as 212 FIRs have been registered for violating the model code of conduct in a week since the poll dates were announced, with the Aam Aadmi Party booked the maximum times (53), followed by BJP (45), Congress (43) and BSP (13).
Following the showcause notices and FIRs, posters carrying images of political patrons were conspicuous by their absence this year at prominent Ramlila grounds and Durga Puja pandals. Further, organisers mentioned that though invitations were issued to celebrities, MPs and MLAs, they were not allowed to address the audience.
“When political leaders come, we show them around the pandal and then offer refreshments... We do not hand them the microphone at any cost,” Anita Haldar, organising committee member at the Kalibari Puja Pandal, C R Park, said.
Her thoughts were echoed by a member of the organising committee at the Nav Shri Dharmik Leela Committee. “We invite political leaders but do not take them on the stage... we take them to nearby marquees, where they are felicitated,” he said.
Sources at the Luv Kush Ram Lila Committee said they had even cancelled visits by dignitaries this year. “We had planned on calling Ramdev, but we cancelled at the last minute... if he had come and uttered anything political, it would have created unwanted controversy,” a source said.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) volunteers, sporting party caps, were spotted at puja pandals in C R Park on Friday. “This is your time to make a change, do not let it go,” a volunteer was heard telling a group of youngsters at Mela ground, C R Park.
However, the volunteers insisted that crowds approached them when they saw them wearing caps and that they handed out caps only when asked. Earlier, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal had visited pandals and, according to sources, had planned visits to Ramlilas. “The plans had to be cancelled in light of the code of conduct,” a source at his office said.
Senior Congress and BJP leaders said