Less than 24 hours after the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) released Prime Minister Narendra  Modi biopic with an “unrestricted” (U) certificate, the Election Commission banned the screening of the film during the election period when the Model Code of Conduct is in force. Acknowledging that film could affect the level playing field for other candidates and parties, the EC order said such film that “subserves purpose of any political entity or individual” should not be displayed in the electronic media.

The EC order comes a day before the movie was to be released. The Omung Kumar directorial titled PM Narendra Modi has Vivek Oberoi in the lead role and it chronicles the life of the PM. After the CBFC green signal, the makers of the film had said they would release it on 11 April.

After the EC decision, however, the film can only be released after May 19, the last phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The first phase is beginning on 11 April, Thursday.

Earlier, the Supreme Court had on Tuesday dismissed a petition filed by a Congress activist seeking stay on the release of the Modi biopic and said the Election Commission would be the “appropriate” authority to take a call on it.

The court had said it was not entertaining the petition calling it “premature” as the movie was yet to be certified by the Censor Board.

The plea had sought deferment of the biopic’s release till the completion of the coming Lok Sabha polls, alleging that it was designed to “manipulate, influence and impress viewers and voters”.

In its order, the ECI said: “It has come to the notice of the Commission that certain political contents, which are not in conformity with the Model Code of Conduct, are being displayed or intended to be displayed to the public through electronic media including cinematograph in the public, which relates to either a candidate or a political party or a specific achievement of the party in power and these are displayed with the purpose of furtherance of electoral gains during the period of Model Code of Conduct. Also, it has come to the notice of the Commission that there are instances of displaying of such political contents on electronic media, which discredit or diminish the electoral prospect of candidate or a political party(ies).”

Stating that it has received complaints about NTR Laxmi  and Udyatna Simham, besides PM Narendra Modi, that these diminish or advance the electoral prospect of a candidate or a party under the garb of creative freedom, the commission said: “It is claimed that such creative contents are a kind of surrogate publicity by the candidate or the political party during the period of MCC. Though the display materials claim to be part of creative content, it is contended that these have propensity and potentiality to affect the level playing field which is not in consonance with the provisions of the Model Code of Conduct.”

Citing Article 324 of the Constitution, the EC order said: “…superintendence, directions and control of elections are bestowed upon the Commission and it is the duty of the Commission to take necessary measures to create a level playing field and provide a conducive electoral environment to all the stakeholders.”

Referring to Supreme Court observations, the EC said it was of the view that there was an “emergent need for intervention in the matter of those ‘political contents’ which are intended (or purported to be) for benefitting or discrediting the electoral prospect of any candidate or/and any political party, for ensuring a level playing field”.

It said any biopic material in the nature of “biography/hagiography sub-serving the purposes of any political entity or any individual entity connected to it, which is intended to, or which has the potential to disturb the level playing field during the elections, should not be displayed in electronic media including cinematograph during the operation of MCC”.

The EC also said any poster or publicity material “concerning any such certified content, which either depicts a candidate (including prospective) for the furtherance (or purported to further) of electoral prospect, directly or indirectly, shall not be put to display in electronic media in the area where MCC is in operation”.

“…any poster or publicity material concerning any such certified content, which either depicts a candidate (including prospective) for the furtherance (or purported to further) of electoral prospect, directly or indirectly, shall not be put to display in print media, without the prescribed instructions of pre-certification,” added the order signed by Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and Election Commissioners Sushil Chandra and Ashok Lavasa.