Election Commission has woken up, says SC after ban on 4 politicians

The court also refused to consider BSP supremo Mayawati's plea challenging a 48-hour gag order slapped on her by the poll panel.

New Delhi: A day after it pulled up the Election Commission (EC) for not acting against politicians for hate speeches, the Supreme Court on Tuesday took note of the poll panel’s action against four leaders of different parties for violating the poll code, saying “It seems the EC has woken up to its power”. The court also refused to consider BSP supremo Mayawati’s plea challenging a 48-hour gag order slapped on her by the poll panel.

The EC had on Monday barred Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan from election campaigning for 72 hours for violating the model code of conduct (MCC). BSP chief Mayawati and Union minister Maneka Gandhi were ordered not to campaign for 48 hours for the same offence. The action came within minutes of the top court expressing displeasure over the EC’s submission that it is “powerless and toothless” to act against such violations.

The EC’s stand that it was helpless against model code violators had riled the bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who initially
threatened to summon Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora to face the court’s questions.

On Tuesday, a bench headed by Chief Justice Gogoi said, “It seems the Election Commission has woken up to its power and taken action against politicians.”

The poll panel’s senior counsel Aryama Sundaram nodded and said, “We found we have powers.”

The bench, which also comprised Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, observed that no further order was required after the EC’s action and asked the petitioner — NRI Harpreet Mansukhani from UAE — to mention the case in future if required.

During the hearing, senior counsel Dushyant Dave, appearing for Ms Mayawati, challenged the ban imposed on her, calling it a “drastic” step that has disrupted her campaign schedule.

He pleaded for an urgent hearing but the CJI said that the challenge against EC order should be made in a separate petition and refused to entertain his plea.

The EC had told the top court on Monday that it had issued a notice to Ms Mayawati, which she was to reply to by April 12 but failed to do so. Ms Mayawati had courted controversy over her speech in Deoband on April 7 asking Muslims not to vote for the Congress as this could help the BJP.

Soon after the ban imposed on Tuesday, the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister said the ban on her will always be viewed as a “blot on the EC’s history”.

While Mr Adityanath, Ms Mayawati and Ms Gandhi were found guilty of violating the model code, the EC said that Mr Khan not only violated the poll code but also disregarded its November 2013 directive asking politicians to desist from “deeds or actions construed as being repugnant to the honour and dignity of women”.

For the first time a pan-India ban has been imposed on politicians, while any restriction on a chief minister and a Union minister is unprecedented.

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