New Delhi: Election Commissioner VS Sampath on Monday brushed aside criticism of the directive to cover statues of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati and the party symbol of elephant in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh and said the decision was in accordance with the model code of conduct.
In an exclusive interview, he spoke to IBN 18 Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai.
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
Rajdeep Sardesai: Let's go straight across to Election Commissioner. VS Sampath is joining us on a day when there are several questions to be asked of the election commissions. Appreciate you are joining with us.
Let me come first to the big decision that you took over the weekend. Your decision to ask UP Chief Minister Mayawati’s statue and the elephant symbol of the BSP to be covered, it met with the opposition from the BSP. Some even calling it anti-dalit, your response why did you decide to cover all the statues as well as the symbol of the BSP? Is this anti dalit?
VS Sampath: This is done only to ensure level playing field and to conduct free and fair election. Actually in this case we asked statues to be covered but similar action was taken even during the conduct of earlier general elections in 2009. Before Parliament elections the photographs of even the Prime Minister who was seeking election in the country, they were ordered to be removed but in 2004 again the pictures of then Prime Minister are also ordered to be removed on national highways under national project. So there is nothing new in this.
Rajdeep Sardesai: You are saying nothing new in this but the Mayawati’s supporters are saying that if the EC wants to cover Mayawati’s statues. Why don’t you for examples cover the statues of Nehru, Indira, Rajeev Gandhi because in Uttar Pradesh the Congress appeal in the names of its former leaders as well.
VS Sampath: Again whatever instructions we have been giving in the past as well as in the present all these only relate to their living leaders. They do not relate to deceased leaders for example in this case also. We have not ordered the veiling of Mr Kashi Ram’s statues, they have left untouched. So whatever policy commission is following they are consistence.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But are you telling me sir, the voters that are free and fair election will be prevented if Mayawati’s statues are seen to the voter. I mean they seem on the face of it, something strange and incongruous about it. Are you saying that merely by seeing Mayawati’s statues or an elephant symbol, a free and fair election will prevented in UP?
VS Sampath : In a election there are occasions we have seen in Rajasthan, a person who was leader of state party lost the election by one vote. And by missing legislative assembly election by one vote, he missed the becoming the chief minister of the state. So therefore we cannot really underestimate the impact of statues etc even if they impact a few voters. We don’t know what would be the effect on the result.
Rajdeep Sardesai: I keep coming back to Mr Sampath Kumar, there will be a feeling that the centre or the EC is discriminating against the state parties benefiting the centre. Prakash Singh Badal has raised this in Punjab, Mayawati is raising this now in Uttar Pradesh that the EC is batting for the centre. That it is the Congress party that wants Mayawati’s status to be covered?
VS Sampath: There is absolutely no truth in this kind of allegations like for example. Even a regional party which was the ruling party in Tamil Nadu which was in coalition with central party, it also raised the same allegation against us. So if the ruling party in the state is affected by our decisions. I really don’t think this kind of charge can be made against us.
Rajdeep Sardesai: So there is no question of any rethink, as far as you are concern there us no question of any rethink ,because some of Mayawati’s supporters are threatening to go to court on this. Are you sure that this order of yours stands judicial scrutiny?
VS Sampath:So now that you have raised about the court, whatever orders we have passed even in this case this was arising out of litigation. Some people filed the petition before the Supreme Court, in that they challenged and they also claimed that the party should be derecognised and Mayawati should be disqualified. And that petition was forwarded by the Supreme Court to election commission because it involved sitting it judgment over the symbol and also disqualification. We examined at that time and we found that those claims were not sustainable but even in that order which was passed after hearing all people consent including BSP. Commission recoded there are very clear findings that measures will be taken to see that the statues do not disturb the level playing fields and give undue advantage to any political parties at the time of elections. So this is only in pursuing of the subject.
Rajdeep Sardesai:Okay, so you are saying that the statue disturbed the level playing fields and this is only applies to living figures, it doesn’t apply to some one who is dead like Kashi Ram, Rajeev Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, that what you are saying? You are making a distinction between living personalities and those who passed away and you believe that will stand scrutiny?
VS Sampath: Correct.
Rajdeep Sardesai: You don’t think that there are doubles standards there?
VS Sampath: No it is not something stand that which were taken today. This was the stand taken even as early in 2009 and also in 2004.
Rajdeep Sardesai:Sir, you have also removed the UP DGP and others key officials, the other home secretary appointed by Mayawati. I come back to it there is sense that EC is targeting Mayawati that what’Mayawati’s supporters are saying. Even the date scheduled all has been done to suit the centre and his anti Mayawati?
VS Sampath: All that we can say is, we in our constitutional function we are not influenced. We cannot be influenced by any one in distorting our constitutional functions. In fact the transfer of the DGP, it is not as if. We ordered it only in UP, in a week back we have ordered the transfer of the DGP in Manipur also and you know which is the ruling party in the Manipur. We have also ordered the transfer of the DGP in Tamil Nadu and you know whose ruling party is in Tamil Nadu. Absolutely there is no kind of biased in Election Commission, looking at these things this is also part of normal exercise which we do to ensure free and fair poll.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Mr Sampath Kumar we have also see in the last forty eight hours. Large amount of cash being recovered in Uttar Pradesh in particular, do you fear that despite all the measures you have adopted money power remains the biggest challenge? That money power in the Uttar Pradesh this time is the biggest challenge that you are going to face and in Punjab indeed and indeed across these states that are going to the polls money power is something you have been unable to control?
VS Sampath: I would not agree that we are unable to control money power. One can always have some dispute about extend of control we are able to make. As you know this is the continuous exercise, there are some vacations when certain people claimed that for each money we seized there is so much going unchecked. But we would like to state that for each amount that we seized several times that amount gets detect from going into circulation. We have able to do in it in a reasonably efficient and effective manner but still as you know this is the continuing afford we cannot say this is the point where we have achieved 100 percentage result but we will continue. If it were not for these efforts the effect of the money will be much worse.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Sir, let’s ask today. It’s snowing towards some parts of Uttrakhand and interestingly even in Punjab. Will the EC consider post polling elections in the snow falling areas particularly Uttrakhand. Is that a possibility sir?
VS Sampath: We are made thorough exercise taken all factors including seasonal conditions, snowfall etc in all the places including Uttrakhand. However as per our information atleast going by historical data of last few years, intensity of snow fall in the month of February is much more then in January. Secondly we have also tried to identify the polling stations which are likely to be badly affected in the event of heavy snowfall; the number doesn't exceed five percent during our last meeting.
Rajdeep Sardesai: No there is no further change in scheduled, you have already changed the counting date. We expect no further change on election dates?
VS Sampath: No, however with regards to the snow bound areas though we have made all arrangements including contigency plan. In the event of any particular polling stations not being able to exercise the poll during that period we would not hesitate to give them another opportunity. So there is gap between date of poll and date of counting.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Okay my final question sir what is the biggest challenge Mr Sampath Kumar the election Commissioner is facing at this time? You know in the past the in Uttar Pradesh candidates have appealed on the grounds of cast. You been tough when candidates appeal for votes on the ground of religion, in UP we fear that there are regular appeals in the grounds of cast. Will you crack down, can we expect the tougher election commission particularly in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where elections are often fought on grounds of cast?
VS Sampath: Cast, actually we have very strong provisions in past as well as in the model code to deal with the appeals of on the basis of cast. One of the very stringent instruction we give to our enforce machinery, is to keep very close watch. Even in the advertisement code looks for any advertisement of cast in advertisement, in the past we have been filing case where the cast elements is sort to be evoked. All of the power available in the loss of the land will be certainly evoked. We will continue our measures to ensure none of these factors adversely affect the poll.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Okay Sampath Kumar the Election Commissioner appreciate you joining us. You made it clear that you are sticking by your decisions for Mayawati statue to be covered in this election and you have also spoken on other issues. So there you have it your election commission making it clear that they expect all of Mayawati’s statue and election symbol that is elephant to be covered in this election and they believe they have judicial backing for that decision.