NEWDELHI (Reuters) – India’s election commission issued a notice asking political parties not to use images of the country’s armed forces in their campaign posters and other advertising during its upcoming general election.
The notice followed pictures posted to social media recently showing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party used images in their campaign posters of a captured Indian Air Force pilot recently returned by Pakistan after a clash with India over the disputed Kashmir territory.
The Election Commission said in a notice on its website on Saturday that political parties must refrain from using photographs of defence personnel in advertisements or their election campaign propaganda as the armed forces are “apolitical and neutral stakeholders in a modern democracy.”
The commission cited a 2013 order that said photographs of defence personnel should not be used “in any manner in advertisement/propaganda/campaigning or in any another other manner in connections with elections by political parties and candidates.”
It called for “strict compliance” with the order.
The pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, was shot down on Feb. 27 by Pakistani aircraft during clashes between the two nuclear-armed powers that began after a terror attack last month in Kashmir that killed 40 Indian paramilitary police.
India blamed Pakistan for the attack and harbouring the militants that claimed responsibility for the attack. Pakistan denies the charges.
India later attacked a site inside Pakistan it claimed was a militant training camp. That triggered aerial clashes that led to Varthaman’s capture. Pakistan released him last week as a peace gesture.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed his release and claimed the clashes with Pakistan were an Indian victory. Nationalistic passions in India have risen since the terror attack.
Recent social media posts showed a campaign poster on a billboard in Indian capital of New Delhi with Varthaman’s face alongside Modi’s, along with the words: “If Modi is in power, it is possible! NaMo again 2019!” NaMo is an acronym for Modi.
Later on Sunday, the Election Commission is due to announce the polling schedule for the upcoming general election, which will be the world’s biggest democratic exercise.
(Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui in NEWDELHI; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)