Poll panel bans political activities at Navratri fairs

Navratri festivities beginning Tuesday will be under the scanner of Election Commission, which on Sunday barred all kinds of political activities at such religious functions in poll-bound Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh during the nine-day revelry.

Navratri, which is a major festival in Gujarat, sees a number of garba and other programmes being held across the state, attracting tens of thousands of people.

EC officials said there is no ban on organising "dandias", "aartis" and other such programmes during the period, but political leaders cannot be invited as chief guests and they cannot use it as a platform for campaigning. Also, they will not be allowed to distribute any publicity material in any language at such events.

However, the prospective candidates and politicians can attend these functions as ordinary citizens. Officials said there would not be any special inaugural or closing ceremony.

Election authorities in the state will ensure that organisers do not allow the politicians to give speeches or use the events for campaigning and any violation will invoke strict action under various laws, including Religious Institution (prevention of misuse) Act, Chief Electoral officer of Gujarat Anita Karwal said.

Before granting permission to organisers of such functions, the authorities will take an undertaking from them that they will not allow the event and the venue to be used for any political activity.

The use of religion and religious spaces for campaigning during elections is not allowed as per existing election norms.

CCTVs would be installed on the location of navratri fairs to help election officers monitor the conduct of politicians attending religious ceremonies.

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