A day ahead of polling for the first phase of assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared on an interview with ANI’s Smita Prakash, and while it may not have been in direct violation of the model code of conduct issued by the election commission, the broadcast was peppered with praise for UP CM Yogi Adityanath, and his government and policies.
The model code of conduct often pertains to media coverage of the elections. A press note issued by the EC in 2009 on “covering of election campaign” says that “no election matter intended/likely to influence or affect the result of election, related to the constituencies going to polls, should be telecast during the prohibited period of 48 hours referred to in Section 126, which may be seen in the constituencies going to polls”.
Ahead of the 2017 Gujarat assembly elections, the had asked TV channels to stop airing interviews of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi as they violated the law and directed the Gujarat poll authorities to take action against anyone for infringement of legal provisions. The poll panel had then said that it had received complaints about a few TV channels broadcasting Gandhi’s interview linked to the state elections.
This election season saw a special emphasis on virtual campaigning, especially in UP, with parties evensocial media platforms such as Instagram to persuade voters. One of the reasons why social media became a playground for political campaigns could also be attributed to the on physical campaigning and rallies till January 15 due to the rise in Covid cases at the time.
In thewith ANI, Modi did not make any direct appeal for votes, but he did use the opportunity for some direct eye contact with the viewer, and to list out some of the Yogi Adityanath government’s achievements. The UP elections came up within the first few minutes of the interview. Almost answering the question she had posed, Prakash pointed out how despite being a state that never allows the same government to come back to power, the BJP had come to power three times in 2014, 2017 and then in 2019. Modi said, “We won in 2014. We were then voted in 2017 and 2019. So the old theory has been rejected by UP. They accepted us in 2014, 2017, and 2019. They'll accept us in 2022 after seeing our work.”
The conversation moved to Uttar Pradesh’s history of crime and ‘gunda raj’ ﹘the BJP has been banking on “safety” and “peace” as its poll planks this time in the state. “Sisters and daughters could not step out of the house, Uttar Pradesh has seen this. Today, Uttar Pradesh’s daughters are saying that ‘I can step out even after dark’,” said Modi.
The Prime Minister went on to speak about how “Yogi-ji prioritised safety and did not compromise”. “There was a time in Uttar Pradesh when goons could do whatever they wanted. Today they fold their hands and ask ‘keep me in jail’...and everyone is surrendering.”
Modi also hailed the UP government for holding the “biggest” Kumbh mela, which was called a ” by sections of the media last year when India was ravaged by the second wave of Covid. “The biggest Kumbh mela happened during Yogi’s tenure. People came in crores, there was no law and order issue. There wasn't even news of a pickpocket case.” Covid found no mention.
The Prime Minister also spoke about the government’s policies, touching upon GST, one ration one card and Ayushman Bharat. He was not once cross questioned about his claims by Prakash, who simply moved on to the next question on regional aspirations of other states.
The interview also touched upon media coverage. Prakash asked Modi about how incidents of polarisation in the context of minorities were covered by both national and international media and how it affected the country’s foreign investment interests. “When it comes to the media, why they do it...on whose directions and under whose pressure…I don’t think commenting on that would be right,” Modi said, pointing out that India had established an identity for itself which went beyond what the media reported.
At one point, Prakash did ask Modi about the opposition’s allegations on the alleged misuse of national agencies such as the ED and CBI. Modi said that the government had nothing to do with raids. “They work independently, the elections come in the middle. They work according to their timings, they get information…the government has no role in that,” he said.