SC stays EC order revoking Kamal Nath's star campaigner status for Madhya Pradesh bypolls

While the poll panel said its order was passed under the Model Code of Conduct and the matter was now infructuous, the apex court asked the EC's counsel how it could determine the party's leader. 'It's their power, not the EC's power,' the bench noted

Press Trust of India November 02, 2020 15:51:22 IST
SC stays EC order revoking Kamal Nath's star campaigner status for Madhya Pradesh bypolls

File Image of Congress leader Kamal Nath. PTI

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the Election Commission order which revoked the "star campaigner" status of former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath for model code violation during the campaign for bypolls in 28 Assembly constituencies in the state.

The counsel appearing for the poll panel told a bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde that Nath's plea has become infructuous as the campaigning has ended and the voting is to take place on Tuesday.

We are staying it, said the bench, also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.

The apex court was hearing Nath's plea challenging the 30 October order of the EC revoking his star campaigner status.

While a political party pays for the expenditure of its star campaigner, a candidate pays the expenses of other campaigners.

Besides seeking quashing of the EC order, the senior Congress leader has also sought framing of appropriate guidelines for speeches during campaigning by star campaigners or campaigners, "keeping in mind the right to freedom of speech and expression and concept of democratic elections".

During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing on Monday, senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for the EC, told the bench, "This is infructuous as campaigning has ended. Voting is tomorrow."

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Nath, said the matter has not become infructuous and the EC had not issued any notice to the former chief minister before passing the 30 October order.

"How can you determine who is their leader? It's their power, not the EC's power," the bench asked EC's counsel.

Dwivedi said, "We have acted under the Model Code of Conduct and moreover, now the matter is infructuous."

"It does not matter whether the matter is infructuous or not. We will determine that from where do you get power," the bench said.

When Dwivedi said if the court is to determine this aspect then EC's order not be stayed, the bench said, "No, we are staying it."

Nath, who is currently the president of Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee, had said in his plea that the EC has passed the order without any notice or hearing him based on a complaint by the BJP against a speech delivered on 13 October.

"It is submitted that the impugned order (of EC) is illegal, arbitrary, unreasoned, passed in complete violation of basic canons of natural justice and in negation of fair play and therefore, deserves to be quashed."

"Further, no notice has been issued to the petitioner (Nath) with regard to the impugned order in complete violation of principles of natural injustice," said the plea, filed through advocate-on-record Varun Chopra.

In his plea, Nath said that EC has passed the 30 October order and has revoked his name from the list of 'star campaigners' of the Indian National Congress on the ground of repeated violation of model code of conduct (MCC) and advisories of the poll panel.

The plea has said that MCC has been in force for 12 districts of Madhya Pradesh since  29 September when the schedule for by-elections to 28 seats in the state legislative Assembly, which are to be held on 3 November, was announced by the EC.

The former Union minister and nine-time Member of Parliament further claimed that leaders of the BJP have been "repeatedly making statements ex-facie in violation of the model code during campaigning for the by-elections."

"It is reiterated that despite the use of such language in public view and blatant violation of the Model Code of Conduct, the Respondent No.1 (EC) has not taken any such action against any leaders of BJP or the party itself for allowing its leaders to repeatedly violate provisions of MCC," it has said.

The plea has also raised several questions of law of public importance, including whether the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed to Nath has been abrogated by the EC.

In the order, the poll panel had said, "...for repeated violation of Model Code of Conduct and for completely disregarding the advisory issued to him, the Commission hereby revokes the status of leader of political party (Star Campaigner) of Kamal Nath, Ex-Chief Minister, Madhya Pradesh, with immediate effect for the current Bye-elections of Legislative Assembly of Madhya Pradesh."

The commission referred to his remarks against Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. He had used the words "mafia" and "milawat khor" against a political rival at a recent campaigning event.

Last week, the EC had asked Nath not to use words like "item" in campaigning. He had used the jibe to hit out at state minister and BJP candidate Imarti Devi at a rally.

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