In a strong disapproval of the language used by BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi a fortnight ago, the Election Commission on Thursday told him to be “more careful” with his choice of words, stressing that the expressions should be couched in terms that conform to “dignity, decorum and public morality”.
The commission’s order came on a Congress complaint against Modi who had slammed the party’s election symbol, a hand, as a ‘khooni Panja’ (bloodied hand) and a ‘zalim haath’ (hand of atrocity).
The Gujarat chief minister had defended his usage to words, arguing that the commission could prohibit defamatory remarks, but could not use the model code to curb his fundamental right of expression and speech enshrined in the Constitution.
The commission did not buy his explanation, stressing utterances – even when used colloquially to criticise policies and programmes of political parties --- had to be conform to “dignity, decorum and public morality”. It added that use of such expressions cannot but be “construed as injurious” to the cause of decorous political discourse.
After going through the speech Modi made in Rajnandaon in Chhattisgarh, the commission concluded that he was referring to the Congress election symbol of hand and his remarks were violation of the model code, which restricts criticism of the political parties on their policies and programmes, past record and work.
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The commission disagreed with Modi’s contention in his reply to the commission’s notice on November 13 that high standard of public discourse in case of personal attack on leaders cannot be enforced for remarks against the political parties.
The commission also reminded Modi that the right to freedom to speech allowing criticism of the political opponents in elections was not “absolute” and has to be exercised in such a manner that it does not transcend the boundaries of decency and morality or disturb public order.
BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi addresses an election rally in Agra. (PTI photo)
The EC also said the right cannot lead to defamation or incitement of an offence as ordained in clause (2) of the Article 19 of the Constitution.
Modi, in his reply, said, “The model code of conduct can only prohibit such criticism which amounts to a defamation in which a defence of truth is not available. Thus, if a corrupt person or entity is referred to as corrupt, the maker of the allegation would not be guilty of either defamation or violation of model code of conduct as long as he can justify the charge made. A complete prohibition of any form of criticism would be in violation of the right of free speech.”
The EC, however, maintained the model code of conduct aims and seeks to achieve the very objective of the Constitutional provisions that imposes reasonable restrictions and hoped that Modi would abide by his commitment to the code and directions of the commission.