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The Election Commission (EC) today (Monday, April 15) barred Uttar Pradesh (UP) Chief Minister (CM) Yogi Adityanath and BSP chief Mayawati from election campaigning for 72 hours and 48 hours, respectively, starting from 6 am tomorrow for violating Model Code of Conduct (MCC) by making objectionable, communal statements in their speeches.

The EC action came after it was pulled up by the Supreme Court today for failing to take action in cases of MCC violation.

The Supreme Court told the panel that it could not drag its feet and had to act promptly against poll code violations. The court had given the poll panel time till tomorrow to report on the action taken against the two prominent politicians for their controversial speeches.

The commission, which has been criticised by political parties across the spectrum for either turning a blind eye to poll code violations or being too slow, issued the gag orders soon after. 

EC action

In separate orders, the Election Commission also “condemned” the two speeches and “censured” the politicians.

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 Commission, under Article 324 of the Constitution of India and all other powers enabling in this behalf, bars him from holding any public meetings, public processions, public rallies, road shows and interviews, public utterances (electronic, print, social media) etc in connection with ongoing elections for 72 hours from 6 am on 16 April 2019,” the panel said.

This is the first time in the 2019 election campaign that the election commission has invoked its powers under the Constitution. It had taken such action in 2014 Lok Sabha elections when BJP’s Amit Shah and Samajwadi Party’s Azam Khan were barred from campaigning for the remaining duration of the election after they failed to stick to the model code of conduct.

Yogi Adityanath’s gag order is for a longer duration because this is his second code violation. The Election Commission noted that it had already advised the chief minister to be more careful about his public statements on 5 April after his controversial speech that allegedly politicised the army action.

The commission also observed that Yogi Adityanath, as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, had the added responsibility to not only uphold basic tenets including secularism but also to display the same in his public statements and meetings.

Supreme Court on EC while hearing NRI’s plea

Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court, which was hearing a PIL seeking action against political parties using use religion and caste to seek votes, had been extremely upset when the Election Commission representative said, “We don’t have any powers. We can’t bar them from contesting. We can derecognise them”.

The PIL was filed by an NRI Yoga teacher Harpreet Mansukhani, based in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), highlighting the increase in hate and divisive speeches in the name of religion in the Lok Sabha elections of 2019 and calling for strict action against political leaders and party representatives spreading hatred on religious and caste lines through the media, especially social media platforms.

During the hearing, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi even threatened to have the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) in the courtroom within the next half hour if the court did not get clear answers to its questions on the poll body’s powers under the law against candidates who spew vitriol.

The court found that in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the ECI had issued notices for hate speeches and campaigning for votes on the basis of religion in only three cases, including Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati.

The EC, represented by advocate Amit Sharma, said Adityanath had been issued an advisory.

Mayawati, the EC said, had asked for votes in the name of religion.

“So what about Mayawati? She was supposed to reply to you [the EC] by April 12… Today is April 15. She has not replied. What does the law permit you to do in such cases? Answer us… What will you do now? What are you empowered to do?” Chief Justice Gogoi asked the EC.

“We will issue an advisory… We may file a complaint,” Sharma replied.

Sharma tried to reason, saying, “There is a procedure… We have to give them time to reply.”

“So you are basically saying you [the EC] are toothless and powerless against hate speeches. The most you can do is send a notice to the offending candidate. If the candidate replies, send him or her an advisory. Despite this, if there is violation of Model Code of Conduct, you may then file a criminal complaint… That is all? Those are your powers under the law?” Chief Justice Gogoi asked Sharma.

Sharma concurred that was “no other power” with the EC. “We [the EC] cannot de-recognise or disqualify the person. This is the only power,” he submitted.

Hearing this, the court decided to examine in detail the issue of the EC’s powers to deal with hate and defamatory election speeches, and violations of the MCC. It ordered an EC official to be personally present in the court on April 16.

Sharma tried to explain that the EC had “standing instructions” to act against hate speeches and the violation of the MCC.

“What do you mean by ‘standing instructions’? You are duty-bound… In certain matters like this, time is limited. You have to act promptly. Whether the outcome is good or bad, you have to get into it immediately,” Chief Justice Gogoi addressed the counsel.

The petition will be heard again tomorrow (Tuesday) when the court has summoned a representative of the EC, agreeing to examine the poll panel’s contention that it has limited legal powers to deal with hate speeches of politicians during electioneering.

NRI Mansukhani’s plea

The petition had urged the court to direct the constitution of a committee headed by a former apex court judge to closely watch the election process and check the fairness of the ECI.

The petition said the communalism of Indian politics, and caste-based parties, were a “great threat to the spirit of the Constitution”.

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Mansukhani, represented by senior advocate Sanjay Hegde and advocate Arup Banerjee, said, “India is beginning to look like Turkey under Erdogan or Russia under Putin, which are turning towards a populist majoritarian leader and right-wing politics for their salvation.”

“The essential component of a constitutional democracy is its ability to give and secure for its citizenry a representative form of government, elected freely and fairly, and comprising of a polity whose members are men and women of high integrity and morality,” the petition said.

Referring to communal and caste-based election speeches and remarks of political leaders, Mansukhani had said the plea was filed to “maintain secular environment in the forthcoming Lok Sabha Election, 2019.”

“The ‘undesirable development’ of appeals to religion, race, caste, community or language of politicians would hamper the objective of fundamental rights provided under the Constitution of India, this would affect the public at large,” the plea had said.

The plea had also sought a direction to the poll panel to take strict actions against media houses which hold debates on caste or religious lines.

“Our Constitution ensures a Socialist, Secular State and equality, fraternity among its citizens. Our country has a democratic set-up which is by the people, for the people and of the people.

“A new trend of giving tickets to those who spread communal hatred and do caste or religion based politics has grown very rapidly on media and social media platform more than that the situation appears to be more alarming when we find such persons being elected for the State Assembly or Parliament…,” the plea had said.

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