Election Commission bars all campaigning by election code violators
The SC was hearing a PIL filed by an NRI yoga teacher based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), seeking a direction to the EC to take “strict action” against political parties if their spokespersons made remarks based on caste and religion lines ahead of this summer’s Lok Sabha elections.Updated: Apr 16, 2019 03:02 IST
The Election Commission (EC) issued a flurry of orders on Monday, barring Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati, Union minister Maneka Gandhi, and Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan from campaigning for varying periods of time for their intemperate utterances on the campaign trail.
EC’s actions came shortly after it was pulled up by the Supreme Court. A bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi took a dim view of its submission that it didn’t have much powers and wasn’t in a position to take any action other than issuing advisories. “Mr Election Commission, you have to act very promptly. You cannot drag matters like this. Get into action immediately,” the CJI said.
Soon after, EC?issued its orders barring Adityanath and Mayawati. It barred the former from campaigning for three days, and the latter, two days, both beginning at 6am Tuesday, for flouting the model code of conduct by referring to religion and caste in their speeches. This is the first such punishment meted out to any leader this political season. Interestingly, the court reviewed the five notices issued till Monday morning by EC. It noted that two were to Adityanath and one to Mayawati and that neither leader had responded.
“What have you done since they have not responded?” CJI Gogoi asked EC’s counsel, who had no answer.
The SC was hearing a PIL filed by an NRI yoga teacher based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), seeking a direction to the EC to take “strict action” against political parties if their spokespersons made remarks based on caste and religion lines ahead of this summer’s Lok Sabha elections. Late in the evening, EC also barred Khan from campaigning for 72 hours, and Gandhi, for 48 hours, starting 10am on Tuesday. While the action against Adityanath, Mayawati, and Gandhi were prompted by violations related to the use of religion while canvassing for votes — a breach of both the Model Code of Conduct as well as an earlier Supreme Court order — that against Khan was prompted by his obscene comments targeted at BJP leader Jaya Prada, who is contesting against him in Uttar Pradesh’s Rampur constituency. An FIR has been lodged against Khan over the remarks. The National Commission of Women has also issued a notice to the SP leader.
The leaders have been instructed not to appear in road shows, rallies, public meetings, processions, give interviews or comments to electronic and print media (or on social media).
The second phase of voting in UP is on April 18, and the silent period when parties and candidates cannot canvass in constituencies going to polls, sets in on April 16. After the EC’s order, the leaders cannot canvass anywhere in the country.
According to an EC official asking not to be named, this is the first time a gag order has been issued against a CM; and also the first time that a pan-India ban has been imposed on canvassing. In the past, Azam Khan and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah were banned from canvassing only in UP in 2014; Giriraj Singh was banned from campaigning in Bihar, the official added.
On Tuesday, the last day for campaigning in seats going to polls for the second phase on April 18, Mayawati was scheduled to address a rally in Agra and Adityanath had campaign events in Nagina and Fatehpur Sikri. The UP chief minister also had rallies planned for some West UP regions going to polls in the third phase the following day, BJP officials said, but gave no specific dates. Khan’s and Gandhi’s campaign plans weren’t immediately available. Since the UP CM has been found guilty of two violations, he has been barred from campaigning for three days; and Mayawati with one offence has been barred for two days, an election commission official said on condition of anonymity. The EC order on Khan suggests he has been barred from campaigning for three days because he is a repeat offender. Another EC official, while speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Khan’s recent remarks on getting bureaucrats to polish his shoes were also being investigated.
The election watchdog issued a notice to Mayawati for violation of the MCC and Representation of the People Act, 1951, by making “objectionable statements” during a public rally on April 7 in Deoband, Saharanpur. In her reply to the commission, Mayawati accepted that in her speech, a special mention was made to the minority community of Muslims to vote in a consolidated manner in favour of the candidate of coalition of the BSP, SP and RLD.
“The Commission has again seen the video recording of her impugned speech and is convinced that she has made highly provocative speech which has the tone and tenor to aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred between different religious communities…” the order stated.
While barring her from canvassing for two days, the commission has said the BSP chief should have “desisted” from making statements that “have the undertone and propensity to polarise the election”.
Reacting over the ban, Mayawati said: “The Election Commission has given a one-sided decision. I have been denied the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. This day will be known as a black day in the history of EC.”
In the case of the UP CM, the poll panel noted that he violated the code of conduct by making some objectionable statements during a public rally on April 9 in Meerut. In his reply to the EC notice issued to him, he accepted using the reference “hara vius” (green virus) to speak about the Muslim League; he was also rapped on his knuckles for referring to religion when he 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.” Previously, on April 5, the poll panel already asked him to be careful with his public utterances after he referred to the army as “Modi ji ki Sena”.
Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Mahendra Nath Pandey said Adityanath “merely took the name of God”. “The BJP is a disciplined political party and we respect the decision of the Election Commission. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath did not in any way provoke religious sentiments, nor did he make any statement which could spread communal unrest. He only took the name of God,” he said, adding that EC should reconsider its decision.
Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi led his party’s delegation complaining about Adityanath and Mayawati’s utterances. According to him, he “argued that the poll body must do something to stop the use of such language in political campaigns”. He added that he “told them (the EC) that mere censure is not enough as one can take a bagful of censure but the next day the person can go back to his or her old style of campaign. One should be allowed to take advantage of this situation.”
Commenting on the poll body’s order, he said: “ This is the first time [this election season], the EC took such a step.”
The Congress has another pending complaint against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for invoking the army during his speech in Maharashtra. “We have trust in EC that it will take a decision on this issue as well,” Singhvi said. Another EC official who asked not to be named said the matter of the PM referring to the Balakot strikes is yet to be put up before the commission and the issue is being assessed.
Gandhi asked Muslims to vote for her or risk having her do nothing for them. While she explained her speech to the commission as just one that was meant to “introduce myself and the work I have done for people in my earlier constituency”, EC said in its order that the video recording of her speech made it very clear that she had violated provisions of the model code of conduct. As for Khan, who made derogatory remarks of a personal nature against BJP candidate Jaya Prada, EC noted that an FIR has already been registered against him for his comments, and that his comments were “indecent” “derogatory”, and “totally uncalled for”.
The EC?order recalled the 2014 action taken by the commission against him that he “has not changed his way of campaigning” and “is using very objectionable language.” SP chief Akhilesh Yadav defended Khan and said his comments were not directed at Prada.
Speaking about the EC ban, Khan said: “I have not said anything demeaning against the BJP candidate. I will send a written explanation to the Election commission and National Commission for Women regarding my statement.”
Reacting to the EC order, Maneka Gandhi said, “I am shocked and surprised. I have never made a provocative speech in my life. In fact, I have always, in Pilibhit, taken the minorities along and I expect to do the same in Sultanpur. Either the EC hasn’t seen the speech or they have gone by bias or by media reports which have mistranslated my speech. Or they have overreacted to pressure from someone else.”
First Published: Apr 16, 2019 03:01 IST