An FIR has been filed against BJP’s leader of Opposition in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly Gopal Bhargava on orders of the Election Commission (EC) for allegedly violating the model code of conduct with his remarks on the October 21 bypoll in Madhya Pradesh’s Jhabua Assembly seat, officials said on Tuesday. He had called the former Union Minister and veteran Congress candidate Kantilal Bhuria a representative of Pakistan.

Bhargava, on Monday while campaigning for BJP candidate Bhanu Bhuria sought to portray the by-election as a “fight between Pakistan and India” and not just a contest between the ruling Congress and the opposition BJP.

He asked the electorate in Jhabua to vote for BJP candidate Bhanu Bhuria as he “represents India” and said his rival Congress nominee “represents Pakistan”. The election of a Congress candidate will send the message that the forces supporting Pakistan have won in Jhabua, Bhargava said. The video of the incident has gone viral.

State’s Chief Electoral Officer V L Kantha Rao told news agency PTI on Tuesday that taking cognisance of the remarks, “we directed the district returning officer and collector to file the First Information Report (FIR) in the matter after finding the controversial statement was violation of the model code of conduct.”

He further said that the collector had sent his report and subsequently the FIR was filed late Monday night. The matter is under investigation.

Jhabua’s Superintendent of Police Vineet Jain said based on the report of returning officer Abhay Kharadi, the FIR was lodged against Gopal Bhargava at the district’s Kotwali police station under relevant sections of the IPC and the Representation of the People Act, for violating the model code of conduct.
The tribal dominated Jhabua seat is very crucial for the Congress. The ruling Congress has 114 MLAs in the 230-member assembly- two short of majority. With this one seat, the Congress government, supported by two Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), one Samajwadi Party (SP) and four Independent MLAs would inch closer to the majority mark.

Top leaders of Congress and BJP converged on Jhabua on Monday, the last day for filing nominations. Chief Minister Kamal Nath conducted a road show before joining Kantilal Bhuria during the filing of papers, while former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan held a rally in support Bhanu Bhuria. Several members of the Kamal Nath ministry were present Jhabua on the day.

The by-election for the Jhabua seat was necessitated after BJP’s G S Damor resigned as MLA on winning the Lok Sabha election from the Ratlam-Jhabua seat earlier this year. The polling is due on October 21.

Madhya Pradesh has a tribal population of 80.67 lakh, nearly 22 per cent of the total population. In the 2018 assembly elections, the Congress won 28 out of 47 Scheduled Tribe reserved seats in the 230-member state Assembly, up 13 from 15 in 2013.