On the day it was asked searching questions by the Supreme Court on the action taken against leaders for provocative speeches during the poll campaign, the Election Commission Monday invoked its extraordinary powers to temporarily ban four political leaders — UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, BSP chief Mayawati, Union Minister Maneka Gandhi and SP leader Azam Khan — from campaigning.
While Adityanath and Khan were barred for three days (72 hours) starting Tuesday morning, Gandhi and Mayawati cannot campaign for two days (48 hours).
The punitive action was taken against the BSP chief for appealing directly to Muslim voters in Saharanpur and Bareilly districts during a joint rally of the BSP-SP alliance on April 7. Adityanath was punished for his “Ali and Bajrangbali” remark at a Meerut rally on April 9 and the “green virus” comment which was a reference to Muslims.
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Maneka Gandhi was barred for saying, at a meeting in Sultanpur on April 11, that she will not be inclined to help Muslims if they do not vote for her. Khan was punished for the “indecent and repugnant” remarks he made April 14 against BJP’s Rampur candidate Jaya Prada.
In 2014, Shah, Azam faced ban
This is only the second time the EC has imposed a temporary ban on a political leader’s poll campaign. In 2014, it barred now BJP chief Amit Shah and SP leader Azam Khan for making inflammatory speeches in defiance of notices.
While Adityanath, Mayawati and Gandhi were given an opportunity to explain their conduct, the Commission acted directly against Khan citing his past conduct and the fact that he hadn’t “changed his ways of campaigning” and was still “indulging in using very objectionable language in election campaigning”.
Condemning remarks by Mayawati and Adityanath, the Commission, in a strongly-worded order, noted that such public utterances “contaminate the electoral process” and have the “propensity to polarise the elections”. On Gandhi, the EC said that her statement, apart from being violative of the Model Code of Conduct, was also a corrupt practice under Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act.
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All four leaders have been barred from “holding any public meetings, public processions, public rallies, road shows and interviews, public utterances in media (electronic, print and social media etc.) in connection with ongoing elections” during the ban period. While the ban on Gandhi and Khan is effective from 10 am Tuesday, it starts 6 am for the remaining two leaders.
Responding to the temporary ban order, Mayawati called it “unconstitutional and cruel”, saying “I have been prevented from my basic rights to go anywhere and speak… This order will be remembered as a black day in the history of our Election Commission. This decision appears to have been taken under some pressure… Intention behind this order is clear that as BSP chief, I cannot appeal to people to remove the BJP from power”.
SP leader Akhilesh Yadav took to Twitter to ask the EC whether it would move against the Prime Minister for his remarks. “EC directive against @mayawati ji begs the question: do they have integrity to stop PM from asking for votes in name of the army?” he tweeted, tagging a quote of the PM appealing to first-time voters to dedicate their votes to soldiers who died in the Pulwama terror attack.
BJP UP president Mahendra Nath Pandey appealed to the EC to review its order, claiming that Adityanath was only remembering his deity, He demanded that action should instead be taken against Mayawati and Khan.
The EC order will cast a shadow on scheduled rallies Tuesday. While Adityanath was suppose to campaign in Nagina and Fatehpur Sikri and participate in Union Home Minister’s Rajnath Singh’s nomination Tuesday, Mayawati had a rally scheduled in Agra.
“There was supposed to be a joint rally of the (SP, BSP, RLD) alliance in Agra on Tuesday, but following the latest order, it appears that Mayawatiji would not be able to attend. Nothing has been decided about the future line of action. Discussions are on and a decision is likely to be taken late night,” SP spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary said.
The Commission’s order came shortly after the Supreme Court questioned the poll panel over action taken against leaders like Adityanath and Mayawati, and decided to examine the Commission’s powers in this regard.
The bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjeev Khanna did not appear satisfied with the Commission’s submission that it had only limited powers in the matter. It said “we would like to examine the matter” and asked the Commission to send a “representative… who is well conversant with the issues raised” to the court at 10.30 am Tuesday when it will consider the matter again.
As the bench heard a petition seeking action over communal speeches and votes being sought on religious lines, the CJI told Commission counsel Amit Sharma: “This is something you are duty-bound to do. Tell us what are you doing.”
Sharma told the bench “we are issuing notices”. He handed over a table which he said showed “specific instances where we have taken steps”. Referring to the mention of Adityanath and Mayawati in the table, the bench asked the counsel what the complaint against them was and what action had been taken.
Sharma said that the matter involving Adityanath had been closed after his explanation and, in another matter, Mayawati who was supposed to reply by April 12 was yet to respond.
“It’s the 15th. What are you doing about it?” the CJI remarked, adding “answer… or we will get the Chief Election Commissioner here… is it not a defiance of the EC order? What are you mandated to do?”.
Sharma said if there are more complaints, the EC will issue notice and lodge a complaint. “We can’t disqualify them,” he said.
The CJI then turned to senior counsel Sanjay Hegde, who appeared for petitioner Harpreet Mansukhani, and told him that the EC was saying it is powerless. Hegde did not agree and said the EC had vast powers under Article 324 of the Constitution.