NEW DELHI: BJP leader Sarita Chaudhary kicked up a veritable storm when she put up a political hoarding with a picture of Indian Air Force (IAF) Wg Cdr Abhinandan Varthaman, who shot down an F-16 before being downed in Pakistan and taken prisoner, before returning home a war hero.
The hoarding also carried the photos of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.
Chaudhary, a former Mayor of South Delhi had contested the 2015 Assembly election from Mehrauli and is part of the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign team in Delhi.
Her move was taken as an instance of the BJP politicising the Army’s valour. Swaraj Abhiyan founder Yogendra Yadav took to Twitter asking the Election Commission (EC), “Is this permissible? Using photograph of a serving soldier in political posters? If not, will you act against it?”
The move evoked a strong reaction from the EC. In fresh instructions issued to all political parties, the EC referred to its December 2013 letter in which it “called upon all political parties to advise candidates and leaders to desist from displaying photographs of defence personnel or photographs of functions involving defence personnel in advertisements”
The Opposition phalanx of 21 parties— among them specifically the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, AAP, the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati and the Congress — have been critical of the BJP’s alleged use of the Pulwama attack and airstrikes to leverage its electoral politics. Chaudhary’s action was promptly taken by them to be yet another instance of ‘politicising nationalism’.
Former soldiers also called it ‘wrong’. Major General SB Asthana said, “Indian forces and their serving officers are kept away from politics. It is wrong to use his portrait on a political hoarding.” Chaudhary, in response to the flak, said, “I don’t know about guidelines of ECI... Moreover, no picture of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was used in my poster. It is only his sketch.”