Strongly objecting to the violation of the Model Code of Conduct during their Lok Sabha campaign speeches, the Election Commission of India on Monday barred Union Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Maneka Gandhi, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and senior Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan from campaigning.
While Gandhi and Mayawati have been barred for a period of 48 hours, Adityanath and Khan are banned from campaigning for 72 hours.
Reacting to the recent development, two former Chief Election Commissioners N Gopalaswami and VS Sampath welcomed the action taken by the poll body. “It is the duty of the Election Commission to crack down on any violation of Model Code of Conduct during the elections and they have essentially done that,” Sampath, who presided over the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and was the Chief Election Commissioner between 2012 and 2015, said.
Gopalaswami, who headed the Election Commission in the run-up to the 2009 general elections and was the Chief Election Commissioner between 2006 and 2009, said, “The Election Commission has done exactly what is needed in such circumstances.”
It may be noted that Article 324 of the Indian Constitution entitles the Election Commission of India to issue instructions exercising plenary powers to ensure free and fair elections. Sampath pointed out that the apex election body had taken action against communally sensitive speeches in the previous general elections too.
Without naming the politicians, but possibly referring to BJP president Amit Shah and Khan, Sampath recalled similar instances of politicians being banned from campaigning during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. “I remember we barred two politicians from campaigning for the whole period of elections. One of them later apologised, so we allowed him to continue campaigning. However, another politician showed no remorse at all.”
Shah, instrumental in BJP’s unprecedented success in Uttar Pradesh during the 2014 elections, was barred for then allegedly making communally provocative speeches in western Uttar Pradesh.
Shah, who apologised in less than 10 days, was allowed to resume campaigning. “Take a note that this modification is being done with a view to giving you a second chance to show by your conduct that you adhere to the provisions of Model Code of Conduct in letter and spirit. The commission shall closely monitor your campaign activities by constant video tracking by the concerned district election authorities,” the Election Commission had stated in their letter to Shah.
On 15 April, 2019, Gandhi was handed a 48-hour campaigning ban for telling Muslims in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur to vote for her as they will need her once the Lok Sabha elections are over. "I have already passed this election. But now, if you have to lay the foundation for getting help then this is the right time to do so," the Union Minister reportedly said.
Campaign bans for Khan, on the other hand, are not a new occurrence for Khan. Unlike Shah, the SP leader showed no remorse for facing action after his alleged inflammatory speeches against then prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. He had reportedly refused to apologise for his remarks and claimed he had not committed a crime.
Five years later, he is yet again under the EC scanner for violating the Model Code of Conduct by making a derogatory remark against BJP candidate Jaya Prada in Rampur. “It took you 17 years to identify her real face but I got to know in 17 days that she wears khaki underwear,” he said, inviting the ire of other politicians, apart from a 72-hour campaigning ban.
Khan’s blatant violation of the poll code during two Lok Sabha polls raises questions about the effectiveness of putting a ban on campaigning by errant politicians. Sampath claimed that action against the two politicians led to a lesser number of hate speeches being recorded during elections to the 15th Lok Sabha. “During the election season, the lifeline of political parties is campaigning. If the Election Commission bars politicians from campaigning, they naturally have to fall in line,” he said.
Gopalaswami, however, while laying the onus of maintaining the decorum of the election on individual leaders, stressed on the need for longer bans in case of politicians who continue to violate the poll code after the ban imposed on their campaigns is over. “The ban will be effective for 48 or 72 hours. Unfortunately, a politician may continue to violate the Model Code of Conduct after the ban is over. It is expected that a politician will learn a lesson after being barred from campaigning for the first time. But if that does not happen, stricter and longer ban may be imposed if necessary,” Gopalaswami opined.
While addressing a rally in Meerut, Adityanath had compared the Lok Sabha elections to a contest between Ali, a revered figure in Islam, and Bajrang Bali, another name for the Hindu god Hanuman. The EC banned him from campaigning for 48 hours.
Meanwhile, the poll body barred Mayawati for her speech in Deoband, where she appealed to Muslims to not vote for a particular party. "I appeal to Muslims that the Congress is not capable of defeating the BJP. Only the alliance parties are capable of doing it,” the former chief minister had said on 7 April.
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Updated Date: Apr 16, 2019 17:54:30 IST