Yogi Adityanath, Azam Khan can’t campaign for 72 hrs, Mayawati, Maneka Gandhi get 48-hr gag order.
New Delhi: A livid Supreme Court on Monday pulled up the Election Commission (EC) for “sleeping” over violations of model code of conduct by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and BSP chief Mayawati while delivering hate speeches and seeking votes in the ongoing Lok Sabha polls on the basis of religion earlier this month. The tongue-lashing by the top court sent the poll panel into a hyperactive mode as it banned both the Uttar Pradesh leaders from campaigning for three and two days respectively within minutes of the court hearing. By late evening, the EC also banned Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan and Union Maneka Gandhi from campaigning for similar offence.
While expressing displeasure over the EC not taking quick action against hate speeches, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi gave the poll panel time till Tuesday to explain its lawyer’s submissions that the EC is largely “powerless” and “toothless” in such matters. The court also decided to examine on Tuesday the ambit of the EC’s powers, asking if the poll panel is even aware of its powers to force errant political leaders to fall in line. Just after the apex court decided to examine the EC’s powers, both Mr Adityanath and Ms Mayawati were restrained from participating in election meetings for three and two days respectively. The two were banned from campaigning in an uncommon censure under Article 324 of the Constitution that deals with power of the EC to conduct national and Assembly elections.
The EC acted against Mr Adityanath for his “Ali” and “Bajrang Bali” remarks while addressing a rally in Meerut on April 9. Ms Mayawati courted controversy over her speech in Deoband on April 7 asking Muslims not to vote for the Congress as this could help the BJP.
Reacting to EC action against her without a hearing, Mayawati said, “The ban on me will always be viewed as a blot on the EC’s history. The hurried nature of the action shows that it was taken under pressure.”
Azam Khan and Maneka Gandhi were banned from campaigning for 72 hours and 48 hours respectively, starting 10 am, April 16.
During a rally in Rampur on April 14, Mr Khan had targeted BJP candidate Jaya Prada, without naming her, saying that it took the people “17 years to understand her reality” but “I could recognise it in 17 days that she wears a khaki underwear”. While seeking action against Mr Khan, Ms Prada said, “He has crossed the lakshman rekhaa this time. He is no longer a brother to me… I tolerated everything, but now I cannot tolerate (this).”
Maneka Gandhi, at a rally in Sultanpur on April 14, had tried to coerce Muslims to voter for her saying that if they do not support her she would not do their works after her election. All four Uttar Pradesh leaders censured by the EC will miss the last day of campaigning ahead of the second phase of elections on April 18.
Earlier, expressing displeasure over the EC’s inaction, CJI Gogoi said, “The Election Commission says ‘we are toothless’. They issue a notice if someone violates model code... or uses religion or caste for votes... then an advisory, if they don’t follow notice... We would like to examine the matter, we want a representative of the EC who is conversant with the details to appear.”
At one stage during the hearing, CJI Gogoi warned the counsel for EC that they may summon the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora within the next half hour if the court does not get clear answers to its questions on the poll body’s powers on hate speeches.
At the outset, the bench, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, asked the EC’s counsel about the action taken so far against the two top leaders of Uttar Pradesh.
“Tell us what are you doing... Tell us what actions you have taken,” said the bench, hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Harpreet Mansukhani, an NRI yoga teacher based in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE), seeking a direction to the EC to take “strict action” against political parties if their leaders make remarks based on caste and religion.
The counsel for the EC said, “The power of the ECI in this behalf is very limited... we can issue notice and seek reply but we can’t de-recognise a party or disqualify a candidate. Mayawati was required to file her explanation to the Commission’s notice by April 12 but it was not done. We can only issue advisories and in case of a repeat offence, register a complaint.”
Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing for the petitioner, maintained that the EC’s powers under Article 324 of the Constitution are quite extensive and it can initiate action against leaders who spew hate.
From the EC’s submissions the court found out that it has issued notices for hate speeches in only three cases so far in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The two cases include that of Mr Adityanath and Ms Mayawati.
Appealing to caste or communal feelings to secure votes is not allowed under the model code, which is a series of dos and don’ts for political parties ahead of elections.
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