The Election Commission (EC) on Friday banned BJP leader Amit Shah and Samajwadi Party's Azam Khan from holding public meetings, processions or road shows in communally sensitive Uttar Pradesh. It also asked the state authorities to lodge FIRs and initiate criminal proceedings against them for making hate speeches.
The stern action was taken by the EC at a top-level meeting where the poll body exercised its constitutional powers to prevent the two leaders from further vitiating the poll atmosphere.
Along with the ban, the EC also asked its officers to book leaders for indulging in hate speeches or raking up personal life of leaders not related to public activities. The direction came on the day Congress raised the issue of BJP's PM pick Narendra Modi not declaring that he was married in earlier affidavits.
Using the powers given to it under Article 324 of the Constitution, the EC directed the state administration to register cases against Khan and Shah. The EC's secretary RK Srivastava has instructed the UP chief secretary to submit a compliance report by 5 pm on April 12.
The state will have to lodge cases against Khan in Ghaziabad and Rampur for hate speeches. His arrest would depend on judicial intervention. Meanwhile, the police will have to arrest Shah if he fails to get bail from the court. A case for hate speech can result in a jail term of three to five years.
This summer's poll has seen leaders of parties indulging in hate speech to polarise votes, especially in riot-hit Muzzafarnagar, which witnessed highest polling in the last three decades.
On April 3 in Shamli, Shah had asked voters to seek "revenge" through ballot for the riots. A remark, which the EC had termed "malicious" and "intentional". On April 9 in Sambhal, Khan repeatedly described Modi and his aide Amit Shah as 'murderers'.
They were allowed to spread hate, the EC observed while tearing into the Akhilesh Yadav-led UP government for its inaction.
"No case seems to have been filed against Khan so far and the commission is of the view that the state government is soft pedaling in taking required action against him so that his undesirable activities could have been properly and effectively checked," the EC instruction to the UP chief secretary said.
The panel also observed that Shah had not been arrested despite being booked for hate speech.
Reacting to the order, the SP said it will request the EC to reconsider its "unjustified" decision. "Khan is a seasoned political leader, whose statements have been misinterpreted and blown out of proportions. The EC decision is uncalled for", SP national secretary Rajesh Dixit said. The BJP is expected to seek a review as well.