India (HRNW): India has entered full election mode: voting began on 11 April, and the final ballot will be cast more than five weeks later on 19 May. Every day, the media will be bringing you all the latest updates on the twists and turns of the world’s largest democracy. India’s Election Commission has temporarily banned Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and Dalit leader Mayawati from campaigning for violating election guidelines. Mr Adityanath, a senior politician from the ruling BJP, cannot address any public meetings or rallies, and cannot even speak to the media for 72 hours starting from tomorrow 06:00 local time. The same applies to Ms Mayawati, president of the regional Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), but her ban ends in 48 hours. Ms Mayawati was pulled up for cautioning Muslims against splitting their vote – she urged them to vote against the BJP and for her party and its allies.
And Mr Adityanath has been reprimanded for two different remarks against Muslims, both made during rallies leading up to the first phase of voting on 11 April. In one speech he had said the main opposition Congress party was infected with a “green virus”, a reference to Muslims. In another speech, he said, “If you have faith in Ali, we have faith in Bajrang bali”. The provocative remark plays on the religious differences between Muslims (Ali is the son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad) and Hindus (Bajrang bali is another name for the Hindu god, Hanuman). The remarks by both leaders violate election guidelines because they are polarising and appeal to voters on the basis of identity. Mr Adityanath, a Hindu hardliner, has repeatedly made controversial remarks, especially against Muslims. And the action against him comes on the heels of the Supreme Court asking the Election Commission what is was doing to curb violations
This commission’s decision is also a setback for Ms Mayawati and Mr Adityanath ahead of the second phase of voting in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday. Both leaders are regional heavyweights in what is a crucial state for any party looking to win a majority at the centre – it sends 80 MPs to parliament. Indian politician Jaya Prada has hit back at Azam Khan, a sitting lawmaker, for allegedly making a remark about her underwear. “I am a woman and I can’t even repeat what he said. I don’t know what I did to him that he is saying such things,” she told ANI news agency. In a video that has been shared widely, Mr Khan is heard saying that the politician wears “khaki” underwear – a reference to the brown shorts worn by members of the rightwing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological fountainhead of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Although Mr Khan did not name anyone, his comments have been widely interpreted as a reference to Jaya Prada, a former actress, who is contesting on a BJP ticket from Rampur in the northern Uttar Pradesh state – and directly taking on Mr Khan. A police case has been registered against Mr Khan, who is from the Samajwadi Party (SP) – a regional force in the bellwether state. But he has denied that he was referring to Ms Jaya Prada. He said he was referring to a man. Mr Khan has a reputation for courting controversy. In 2014, he was banned from addressing any rallies in Uttar Pradesh after the election commission found him guilty of making communally divisive remarks. But this, many observers say, is a new low and proof of the casual misogyny female politicians continue to encounter in India although women leaders play a big role in many political parties. His remarks, reportedly made at a rally on Sunday, quickly drew ire from opposition politicians and other observers. The National Commission for Women also took note, with chairperson Rekha Sharma calling it “disgraceful” and saying she would ask the Election Commission to bar him from contesting.