Election commission, declaring national polls from April 11 to May 19, orders political parties to refrain from using images of country's "apolitical" armed forces in posters and other advertising during campaigns.

Supporters of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party wearing masks of Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman and Prime Minister Narendra Modi ride their motorbikes during a rally to celebrate after Abhinandan was freed by Pakistan, in New Delhi, India, March 2, 2019.
Supporters of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party wearing masks of Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman and Prime Minister Narendra Modi ride their motorbikes during a rally to celebrate after Abhinandan was freed by Pakistan, in New Delhi, India, March 2, 2019. (Reuters)

India's election commission issued a notice asking political parties not to use images of the country's armed forces in their posters and other advertising during campaigns for the April-May general election.

The commission announced national polls on Sunday, with voting to run from April 11 to May 19.   

The notice followed pictures posted to social media recently showing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) used images in their campaign posters of a captured Indian Air Force pilot recently freed by Pakistan after a clash with India over the disputed Kashmir territory.

The election commission said 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."

'Strict compliance'

It called for “strict compliance” with the order.

The pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, was shot down on February 27 by Pakistani aircraft during clashes between the two nuclear-armed powers that began after a suicide 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 and has asked for "actionable evidence" from India.

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 Kashmir suicide 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.

Election in seven phases

Later on Sunday, Chief election commissioner Sunil Arora said the election will be held April 11, 18 and 23, and May 6, 12 and 19.

About 900 million people are eligible to vote in a staggered process allowing the government to deploy tens of thousands of troops to prevent violence and the capture of voting stations by party activists.

The votes will be counted on May 23.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies