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The Supreme Court today (Tuesday, April 16) expressed satisfaction with Election Commission (EC) taking action against leading political candidates for their communal speeches, soon after being pulled up by the court for describing itself as “toothless” and “powerless” in the face of hate.

“Seems you have got your powers now,” Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi remarked to the EC.

After being pulled up by the Supreme Court, the EC had acted against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati, Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan and BJP leader Maneka Gandhi, prohibiting them from election campaign for 48 to 72 hours.

“We found we have several powers…” senior advocate CA Sundaram, who appeared for the ECI in the case, acquiesced.

“So, EC has woken up to its powers,” CJI Gogoi said pointedly, again.

On Monday, the EC had claimed it was mostly helpless if candidates spewed communal vitriol in their campaign speeches for Lok Sabha polls of 2019.

This had riled a Bench led by CJI Ranjan Gogoi, who initially threatened to summon Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora to take the court’s questions. The court had then decided to delve deep into the EC’s claims that its powers were “circumscribed”. It had given the Commission exactly 24 hours to be ready with a response.

Shortly after the order was passed on Monday, the EC passed orders against the four politicians, gagging them.

The Supreme Court also dismissed BSP chief Mayawati’s objections to the EC’s order that barred her from campaigning for 48 hours. The court asked her to file a separate plea against the poll body’s gag order

Mayawati alleged that the Election Commission passed ex-parte orders. Mayawati’s lawyer and senior advocate Dushyant Dave said the EC’s gag is “extremely drastic”. He sought an urgent hearing at 2 pm on Tuesday.

“This is harsh. Meetings are already scheduled,” Dave urged the court for a hearing.

“File an appeal if you want. Not commenting on anything now,” Chief Justice dismissed the plea.

The EC ban came to effect from 6 am on Tuesday. The ban means Mayawati will not be able to address a rally in Agra on Tuesday – the last day before campaigning for the second phase of elections comes to an end. Eight of the 80 Lok Sabha seats of Uttar Pradesh will vote on April 18.

“Pursuant to order passed yesterday (April 15), EC has taken action, appropriate details of which have been submitted. No further order called for today. Mention (the case) as and when required,” the Supreme Court recorded in its order on Tuesday.

On Monday, the Chief Justice lashed out at the EC, saying, “You are basically saying you (EC) are toothless and powerless against hate speeches. The highest 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? That is your powers under the law?”

The Court said the EC was “duty-bound” to act promptly against hate speech given in violation of the Model Code of Conduct under place in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The Court was hearing a petition filed by an NRI, Harpreet Mansukhani, highlighting the increase in hate and divisive speeches in the name of religion and caste in the Lok Sabha elections of 2019.

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 EC.

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

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.”

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“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.

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“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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