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‘Can’t drag cases’: Supreme Court nudges EC to act promptly on hate speech

The Supreme Court nudged the Election Commission on Monday to act promptly on complaints of hate speeches by politicians during the campaign for the national election, bluntly telling the poll body that it could not drag matters like this.

india Updated: Apr 15, 2019 14:40 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
There is also a Supreme Court order that prohibits candidates from making appeals for votes on communal lines.
There is also a Supreme Court order that prohibits candidates from making appeals for votes on communal lines.(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)
         

The Supreme Court nudged the Election Commission on Monday to act promptly on complaints of hate speeches by politicians during the campaign for the national election, bluntly telling the poll body that it could not drag matters like this.

“You have to act very promptly… Get into action immediately,” a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi observed. The judges were hearing a petition against a string of hate speeches by political leaders that wanted the Supreme Court to step in.

The two immediate examples before the judges were controversial speeches reported to have been made by Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath over the last few days.

The court pointed that one notice issued to Yogi Adityanath had been closed while Mayawati hadn’t bothered to respond to the poll panel’s notice issued to her on April 11.

In a speech at a rally in Saharanpur’s Deoband on April 7, Mayawati had appealed to Muslims to vote for the alliance and not divide their vote by supporting another political party.

Two days later, according to the Election Commission, Yogi Adityanath told a rally in Meerut about Mayawati’s speech and said: “If the Congress, SP and BSP have faith in ‘Ali’, we have faith in ‘Bajrang Bali’, the followers of Bajrang Bali will not tolerate them.”

The two prominent politicians were sent notices by the Election Commission for their speeches that were widely seen as an attempt to communalise the elections.

The law and the model code of conduct bars political leaders from canvassing on the basis of religion. There is also a Supreme Court order that prohibits candidates from making appeals for votes on communal lines.

But by this weekend alone, there were already over 75 complaints listed on the election commission’s website against leaders making speeches with content that is prohibited.

When the top court inquired from the Election Commission, the poll body underlined that it could only issue a notice, advisory and at best, lodge a police complaint for violating the poll code.

The Election Commission submits it can’t go beyond issuing notice, advisory and at best lodge a formal complaint in case a candidate violates model code of conduct and gives hate speeches based on religion and caste.

“The EC says they are toothless. They say that they first issue notice, then advisory and then complaint,” the bench said, adding it would examine the aspect relating to poll panel’s power to deal with hate speeches during poll campaign.

A former chief election commissioner recently told HT that the commission could probably look at decisions taken in 2014 the commission had invoked its powers under the Constitution to bar BJP president Amit Shah and SP leader Azam Khan from campaigning after they failed to stick to the poll code.

The top court will hear the case again on Tuesday when the Election Commission has been told to report back on the action taken against Mayawati and Yogi Adityanath for their alleged hate speeches. “Tell us what action you have taken against Mayawati and Yogi Adityanath,” the bench asked and fixed the matter for tomorrow, according to news agency PTI.

An NRI Yoga teacher based in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had filed the petition to seek orders to the Election Commission to take “strict action” against political parties if their spokespersons make remarks based on caste and religion in the run up to general elections.

First Published: Apr 15, 2019 14:21 IST

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