Supreme Court calls Election Commission 'toothless' for failing to act against political leaders who make polarising speeches
Election Commission (EC) bars Maneka Gandhi, Yogi Adityanath, Mayawati and Azam Khan from campaigning for varying periods
New Delhi: The Election Commission (EC) on Monday barred four political leaders, including union minister Maneka Gandhi, from campaigning for varying periods, hours after an explosive intervention by the Supreme Court, which called the commission “toothless" for failing to act against political leaders who made polarizing speeches.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath was barred for 72 hours and Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati for 48 hours, starting Tuesday, after being found guilty of violating the model code of conduct (MCC) during the campaign for the ongoing elections.
Also barred from campaigning were women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi for 48 hours and senior leader of Samajwadi Party, Azam Khan, for 72 hours for their recent statements made during election meetings. Khan made objectionable comments at a public meeting in Rampur while Maneka Gandhi had made objectionable comments at a rally in Sultanpur.
The EC move comes amid a welter of statements made by leaders of various parties in campaign hustings that are seen to be divisive and causing hatred towards communities.
The leaders were barred from holding public meetings, rallies, roadshows, processions and interacting with reporters.
The EC order came after a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on Monday rebuked it on its easy-going attitude towards election candidates, who make religious- and caste-based speeches that are against the model code of conduct.
EC, in its order, said Adityanath had accepted using the words “Green Virus"—a reference to the Islamic colour—and “Bajrangbali" at a public meeting in Meerut on 9 April. The CM had a responsibility to not only uphold the basic tenets of the Constitution, secularism, but also to display it in his public speeches, meetings and appearances, EC said in the order.
“Yogi Adityanath in his speech has appealed to secure votes on religious lines that tantamount to violation of MCC. He should have desisted from making statements that have the propensity to polarize the elections," the EC order said.
Condemning the MCC violations, EC said politicians had no business appealing to caste or communal feelings for securing votes.
“Mayawati has accepted that in her speech a special mention was made to the minority community of Muslims to vote in a consolidated manner. Mayawati should have desisted from making statements that have the undertone and propensity to polarize the elections. The EC expressed its concern on such public utterance, which contaminate the electoral process," the commission said. Mayawati made the remarks during a public meeting in Saharanpur on 7 April.
Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court asked EC what action it could take against leaders who make caste-based and religious speeches.
“Are you aware of your power," Gogoi asked. “Do you have answers to our questions or should we summon the chief election commissioner to answer our questions?"
Counsel for the EC, taken aback by Gogoi’s strong intervention, said the commission was well aware of its power and had sent notices to the offenders. Gogoi then told EC to be proactive in taking action against the guilty, rather than whiling away its time in filing paperwork, notices and affidavits.
EC explained that its hands were tied as it does not have any powers by which it can disqualify a candidate for violating the rules of conduct. Explaining the process, counsel for EC explained that in case of any violation of MCC, in the first instance, a notice is issued to the candidate and a reply sought. If the candidate doesn’t respond, then advisories are issued. Lastly, EC files complaints.
“The EC says they are toothless," Chief Justice Gogoi observed. “They say that they first issue notice, then advisory and then complain."
The apex court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by Harpreet Mansukhani.
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