M A I N   N E W S

Stampede snowballs into poll issue
Opposition demands action; BJP disowns Tandon’s party
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 13
Even as the BJP denied any link with its leader Lalji Tandon’s birthday party which led to a stampede killing at least 21 persons in Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee parliamentary constituency, the Opposition parties today demanded “appropriate action” by the Election Commission terming the distribution of sarees as a clear violation of the Model Code of Conduct.

An Opposition delegation of Congress, RJD and CPI (M) leaders met Commission authorities, demanding action against the BJP which it accused of violating the Model Code of Conduct by distributing free clothes to voters ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, Congress spokesman Kapil Sibal told newspersons after a 30-minute meeting with the EC.

The Opposition’s demand comes two days ahead of filing of the nomination by the Prime Minister in Lucknow.

Mr Nilotpal Basu (CPM), Mr D Raja (CPI), Mr Danish Ali (JD-S) and Mr Prem Chand Gupta (RJD) were other members of the delegation that called on the EC today.

The Congress also demanded prosecution of Mr Tandon, saying mere police transfers in the wake of the tragedy were not sufficient.

“A message should not go to the people that (Chief Minister Mulayam Singh) Yadav wants to shield the guilty, Mr Sibal stressed.

Mr Sibal said the stampede had “bared” the “real” face of BJP’s India Shining campaign. It showed how the BJP treated human beings so shabbily by throwing sarees costing a mere Rs 40 at women.

The Opposition parties observed that the birthday party at a public park, where nearly 10,000 persons had gathered, was a criminal offence in the light of the enforcement of Section 144 in the area.

Mr Sibal maintained that the incident was a serious matter as it happened in Mr Vajpayee’s constituency.

A cornered BJP, however, sought to give a new twist to the incident, by denying that it had anything to do with Mr Tandon’s birthday party.

“Our leaders do go to social functions. But the party neither organised it (the Lucknow function) nor was it associated with it in any way,” BJP General Secretary Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said.

He said it was not the first time that such a function was organised on April 13, the birthday of Mr Tandon, Leader of the Opposition in the UP Assembly.

If he (Mr Tandon) was invited by the organisers to attend the function and distribute sarees on their behalf, he had done it in his personal capacity, Mr Naqvi said. The party had nothing to do with it, he stressed.

Mr Naqvi denied that the Model Code of Conduct was violated by distribution of free sarees on Mr Tandon’s birthday during the election time, saying it was a private function organised by a social organisation. He instead accused the Congress of politicising the incident.

A full meeting of the EC will take place after ascertaining all facts related with the incident, Chief Election Commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthi said in Mumbai.

Mr Krishnamurthy promised “stern action” — but declined to say what — if the Commission found a violation of the Election Code in the free saree distribution to celebrate Mr Tandon’s birthday.

The CEC said he had called for a full report on the incident from the Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary. The full Commission will meet and only then a decision would be taken after careful verification of the facts, he pointed out.

“We cannot take a decision in haste, nor a single individual could comment on the incident.”

The BJP made a feeble attempt to gain sympathy by declaring that no fanfare would accompany the Prime Minister when he files his nomination on Thursday.

BJP leader Kalyan Singh in Lucknow and Mr Naqvi here said Mr Vajpayee wanted a simple arrangement for his nomination filing in the wake of yesterday’s deaths.

Earlier in the day, former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) demanded Mr Vajpayee, in whose constituency the incident happened, be kept out of the poll fray.

Women organisations also held demonstrations, alleging giving away free clothes to women as “Bakshish (alms)” to celebrate a leader’s birthday showed the BJP leadership’s “utter disregard for dignity of women”.

In Bolangir (Orissa), Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, while mourning the deaths in the Lucknow stampede, said awarding compensation for a tragedy during election time did not amount to breaking the poll Code. Mr Advani said he found nothing wrong in government extending help to the people in distress and that it was the responsibility of the government to render all help and assistance to the needy.


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