E.C. unable to ensure level playing field for polls in 2019

By Lalit Sethi. Dated: 4/19/2019 10:48:56 AM

With widespread violations of the Election Code and uncontrolled use of unpermitted expressions to fan communal virus, the Election Commission has received a wake-up call. The worst culprit is Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. But is he willing to listen or defiant even of the Supreme Court? Or he is a law unto himself? He is not a man to be stopped even for 72 hours and protests as if he is within his rights to defy the highest authorities of the land. Such crass behaviour of an arrogant leader is hard to explain, but will the BJP president or the Prime Minister call him to discipline? Or will he wink his eyes and continue to disobey the Supreme Court or the Election Commission?
In a strong remark, the Supreme Court has called the Election Commission "toothless" for its failure to stop controversial utterances.
On April 15, the Court ticked off the Commission for failure to stop controversial statements by politicians. The Election Commission then barred four senior leaders, Yogi Adityanath, Union minister Maneka Gandhi, BSP chief Mayawati and Azam Khan from campaigning for 48 to72 hours for their "highly provocative" or "derogatory" remarks made during the course of campaigning. Yogi insisted that he had been using the words "green virus", apparently referring to Muslims and Bajrang Bali to woo other voters.
Adityanath and Azam Khan, an SP leader, were prohibited for 72 hours on April 16 from holding public meetings, processions, rallies, road shows and media interviews as well as making public speeches in connection with the ongoing polls. A ban for 48 hours was imposed on Mayawati and ManekaGandhi for appeals to communal feelings of the voters.
Adityanath and Mayawati stood by their remarks. He said: "I used the term 'green virus' for the thought which practises vote bank politics on religious lines... Such narrow thought is harmful to healthy politics... Those practising such politics have to be eliminated just the way a virus is removed", the Yogi said. Mayawati called the EC "anti-Dalit" and accused it of working at the behest of BJP.
The Election Commission "strongly condemned" Yogi Adityanath for his "green virus" and "Ali-Bajrang Bali" remarks + made while campaigning in Meerut on April 9 and "censures" him for the "misconduct".A similar verdict against BSP chief, Mayawati, was given for her "highly provocative speech" on April 7 at Deoband, Saharanpur, asking Muslims to "vote unitedly" for their candidate; the EC concluded that both Adityanath's and Mayawati's remarks "contaminated" the electoral process.
Within hours of issuing the orders against Adityanath and Mayawati, the EC came out with a similar order prohibiting campaigning by Union minister Maneka Gandhi for 48 hours for her April 11 remarks in Sultanpur suggesting that she will not recommend Muslims for jobs if they don't vote for her.
Azam Khan was pulled up for his "indecent, derogatory and totally uncalled for" remarks against Jaya Prada in Rampur on Sunday. Maneka and Khan were "strongly condemned" for their statements and reprimanded for the misconduct.
Indeed, the EC is expected to send another notice to Azam Khan for his alleged remark that he would make the district magistrate of Rampur wipe Mayawati's shoes.
Reacting to the EC order, Mayawati said: "Amit Shah and Mr.Modi continue to spread hatred. But they have been given a free run to create discord. Yogi tried to divide people on the lines of Ali and Bajrang Bali. I did not start it. Mr. Modi has been warned against using the defence services in his speeches but he continues to do so. The EC has not had the courage to issue a notice to the real culprit, Narendra Modi." The action came after the Supreme Court criticized the commission for failure to curb controversial utterances, and termed it "toothless". However, an EC functionary clarified that its action against the four senior leaders, taken under Article 324 of the Constitution, was not a fall-out of the SC questioning the EC. He said the commission had met on a Sunday to discuss the leaders' replies to its notices and decided to take action.
This is not the first time that the EC has barred top political leaders from campaigning. BJP president Amit Shah and Azam Khan were banned from holding public meetings and rallies in UP during the last Lok Sabha elections in 2014.
The punishment for the Yogi was higher as this was the second time he was found guilty of having violated the model code during the last Lok Sabha polls and was censured. He had not changed his ways and was still using objectionable language.
The Supreme Court has clarified that it has not offered any view or finding on allegations levelled by Rahul Gandhi on corruption in the Rafale deal or Mr. Narendra Modi's alleged complicity in it while asking the opposition leader to reply to a petition seeking contempt proceedings against him as the petition accused him of contempt for wrongly telling the public that the SC had found the PM guilty of corruption in the Rafale fighter jet deal.
Along with the notice to him on BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi's petition, a bench of Chief Justice and Mr. Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna gave two crucial clarifications contradicting Rahul's public claim on the order which, the court said, concerned the purely legal question of admissibility of certain documents relating to the Rafale contract.
The SC reference was to Rahul's comments that "now the SC has accepted that chowkidar has done the theft. The court has said that. In Rafale (deal), two persons have indulged in corruption, one is Mr. Narendra Modi and the other is Anil Ambani. The chowkidar has stolen Rs 30,000 crores from the country and given it to Ambani".
Opening the arguments for Lekhi, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi read out Rahul's statement and accused the Congress president of committing the indefensible contempt of the SC by claiming that the apex court had accepted that "chowkidar is chor". The CJI immediately said, "You are right. We did not say any such thing." The bench added, "We make it clear that this court had no occasion to record any view or finding or make any observation as allegedly attributed to the court by the respondent (Rahul Gandhi) inasmuch as what was decided by this court was a purely legal question of admissibility of certain documents to which objections were raised by the learned attorney general."
In the meantime Income Tax authorities continue to conduct raids on eve of poll whose target is senior opposition leaders. The E.C advice on the subject is being ignored.
Lalit Sethi is a Journalist of long standing and a commentator on Political and Social Issues.
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