Rahul Gandhi at Stella Maris: Why TN Higher Education dept's enquiry citing election code of conduct is weird

A letter was sent by the Director of Collegiate Education asking how permission was granted to Stella Maris, a government aided college, to conduct an event where a political leader took part
The poster for Rahul Gandhi's visit (Pic: Stella Maris)
The poster for Rahul Gandhi's visit (Pic: Stella Maris)

Despite the fact the Congress President Rahul Gandhi said plenty of newsworthy things during his freewheeling chat at the Stella Maris College for Women In Chennai  - from enforcing reservation for women, a rather strange willingness to offer up his brother-in-law Robert Vadra for probing and plenty about the state of women in the country - the only thing that went viral was the 'Call me Rahul, don't call me sir' exchange between him and a rather heavily blushing Fine Arts Student.

Selfie Time: Rahul Gandhi stops for a selfie with the students of Stella Maris

Rather strangely, on Thursday, an urgent letter was sent by the Director of Collegiate Education, Dr R Sarumathi to the Joint Director directing him to conduct an enquiry into how "permission was granted" to Stella Maris, described as "a government aided college", to conduct an event where "a political leader" took part, when the model code of conduct has been enforced by the Election Commission of India (ECI) from March 10. The letter also directed the official to conduct an enquiry and revert with the information as quickly as possible.

Here's why this is more than a little strange.

To begin with, Rahul Gandhi took part in the event which largely appears to have been organised by Stella Maris College, which is a Catholic minority insitituon and was granted autonomy in 1987 and is attached to the University of Madras. "The event was called ChangeMakers and it was designed around the theme 'How young women can inspire the new world' and it was a conversation with Rahul. It was not sponsored by the Congress party to the best of our knowledge," indicated a staff member of the 72-year-old college. To equate it to a political meeting - which is the only type of meeting that is governed by the Model Code of Conduct - would be overreaching it.

It is also pertinent to understand what the model code of conduct actually says:

I. General Conduct

  1. No party or candidate shall include in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic.
  2. Criticism of other political parties, when made, shall be confined to their policies and programme, past record and work. Parties and Candidates shall refrain from criticism of all aspects of private life, not connected with the public activities of the leaders or workers of other parties. Criticism of other parties or their workers based on unverified allegations or distortion shall be avoided.
  3. There shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes. Mosques, Churches, Temples or other places of worship shall not be used as a forum for election propaganda.
  4. All parties and candidates shall avoid scrupulously all activities which are “corrupt practices” and offences under the election law, such as bribing of voters, intimidation of voters, impersonation of voters, canvassing within 100 meters of polling stations, holding public meetings during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the close of the poll, and the transport and conveyance of voters to and from polling station.
  5. The right of every individual for peaceful and undisturbed home-life shall be respected, however much the political parties or candidates may resent his political opinions or activities. Organizing demonstrations or picketing before the houses of individuals by way of protesting against their opinions or activities shall not be resorted to under any circumstances.
  6. No political party or candidate shall permit its or his followers to make use of any individual’s land, building, compound wall etc., without his permission for erecting flag-staffs, suspending banners, pasting notices, writing slogans etc.
  7. Political parties and candidates shall ensure that their supporters do not create obstructions in or break up meetings and processions organized by other parties. Workers or sympathisers of one political party shall not create disturbances at public meetings organized by another political party by putting questions orally or in writing or by distributing leaflets of their own party. Processions shall not be taken out by one party along places at which meetings are held by another party. Posters issued by one party shall not be removed by workers of another party.

II. Meetings

The party or candidate shall inform the local police authorities of the venue and time any proposed meeting Well in time so as to enable the police to make necessary arrangements for controlling traffic and maintaining peace and order.

  1. A Party or candidate shall ascertain in advance if there is any restrictive or prohibitory order in force in the place proposed for the meeting if such orders exist, they shall be followed strictly. If any exemption is required from such orders, it shall be applied for and obtained well in time.
  2. If permission or license is to be obtained for the use of loudspeakers or any other facility in connection with any proposed meeting, the party or candidate shall apply to the authority concerned well in advance and obtain such permission or license.
  3. Organizers of a meeting shall invariably seek the assistance of the police on duty for dealing with persons disturbing a meeting or otherwise attempting to create disorder. Organizers themselves shall not take action against such persons.

Holding events at colleges or places of education aren't mentioned anywhere - nor does the question of permission to hold such an event arise for anyone except the police - who were there at the college in Great numbers, owing to RaGa's SPG (former?) category security clearance. 

Enquiry Initiated: The letter sent by the Director of Collegiate Education

The authorities of Stella Maris may well have been within their right to invite any speaker that they wish to host without the need to seek permission from the government, "Normally, an invitation copy is sent to important ministry and education department officials but there is no question of asking permission. We have had former union ministers and many other political personalities visit us close to election season and such an issue has never cropped up before," said an administrator with another minority institution in the city. 

RaGa speaks: Law and order should be applied to everyone, Rahul Gandhi said at Stella Maris College

Agreed, the INC's social media team milked it for all it was worth - posting photos by the truckload and clearly slanted videos of girls who thought the Gandhi scion was "cute" and had "great dimples" and so on. But at no point does the party claim organisational bragging rights to the event, which was a lot like Gandhi's college conversation at Bengaluru's Mount Carmel College. 

Gandhi's decision to speak at the college, believed to have been firmed up in secrecy about a week before the event was held, was criticised by prominent ruling party voices, albeit for a while other reason. The BJP's General Secretary of ye Youth Wing in Karnataka, Tejasvi Surya tweeted, "That Rahul Gandhi prefers visiting only Christian managed colleges like Stella Maris & Mount Carmel and that such colleges give him exclusive space & audience shows nexus between Christian managements and their open support to Congress Party. Hindu educationists must understand!"

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