It was only the other day that P Chidambaram, the finance minister who ran away from the contest, but who speaks with great authority, taunted the BJP for seeking greater security for Narendra Modi. The BJP had sought further security for its prime ministerial candidate following the bomb blast on a train near Chennai. Chidambaram had ruled that out, saying that Modi had addressed more than a hundred meetings and nothing untoward had happened. But on Thursday, Chidambaram suddenly conjured up a security threat to Modi to justify the arbitrary denial of permission to him to hold a public rally in Varanasi. Of course, no such threat had surfaced till then and the denial of permission to Modi to hold a public meeting in the constituency from where he himself is seeking election to the Lok Sabha was a political decision dictated by the district magistrate’s political masters. Period. The most crucial factor that the district magistrate who doubles as the returning officer for the Varanasi parliamentary constituency ought to have kept in mind is that Modi himself is a candidate and, therefore, cannot be denied his right to address his voters ahead of the polling on May 12. Congress leaders like Chidambaram might have discovered great virtues in the Election Commission while being unmindful of the disrespect to EC rules shown  by Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, but the truth is that the Varanasi DM played foul with the BJP. He allowed the Congress vice-president to hold a road show on Saturday, May 10; he allowed other candidates in the fray to continue addressing public rallies, but Modi was not to be allowed to address a public meeting in the very constituency from which he is seeking election to the Lok Sabha. This is pure politics. Not justice. As it turns out, the ground sought by the BJP for the Modi rally was available, though a falsehood was spread that it had already been booked by some NGO. It was not. As it turns out, there was no threat warning given by the Gujarat Police to the UP Police, as was falsely claimed. As it turned out, the Modi road show had earlier passed through some of the most densely-populated areas in Varanasi on the day he had filed his nomination papers. The claim that the returning officer had given four permissions while denying only one was again misleading. First, landing and taking off in one’s helicopter in one’s own constituency should not count as `two permissions,’ as the haughty Chidambaram would have you believe. It was no favour to candidate Modi. Again, giving the go-ahead to Modi to address a gathering of some 150 people in a closed hall was a joke in a constituency of over sixteen lakh voters. Nor was it a favour to tell him at the last minute that he was permitted to perform `aarti’ at the Ganga Ghats. All these spoke of a petty conspiracy to prevent Modi from campaigning in Varanasi. However, these decisions proved counter-productive when the BJP leaders sat on a day-long dharna and then ensured Modi’s passage from the helipad to the party office through a huge throng of party workers and supporters. News television cameras never left the action in Varanassi for a moment on Thursday, thus frustrating the game of the petty minds behind the arbitrary denial of permissions to Modi.

Yes, the EC must be given respect due to a constitutional body. But, then, the onus to ensure that returning officers conduct themselves with demonstrable impartiality and fairness lies with the EC. In this case, the Varanasi RO was clearly working under pressure of his political masters. And the BJP was right in protesting his arbitrary decisions. Constitutional institutions cannot demand respect; they ought to earn it by their actions. When Rahul Gandhi can move freely from polling booth to polling booth in Amethi, thus violating the secrecy of the ballot, and the EC remains a mute witness, it calls into question the electoral watchdog’s effectiveness. When the Varanasi RO played foul with candidate Modi, the onus was clearly on the EC to undo his mischief. Alas, the EC failed in its duty, though overall, it must be appreciated, it has conducted a fair and free poll, barring stray instances of booth-capturing in the interior parts of Bihar and UP.

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