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Posted at: Apr 15, 2019, 1:00 PM; last updated: Apr 15, 2019, 5:43 PM (IST)

SC to examine ‘toothless’ EC’s power to deal with hate speech during polls

SC to examine ‘toothless’ EC’s power to deal with hate speech during polls
The Bench was hearing a PIL filed by an NRI Yoga teacher based in Sharjah. Tribune file

Satya Prakash

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 15

How much power the Election Commission does have to deal with hate speech during poll campaigns?

Taking note of alleged hate speeches made by BSP supremo Mayawati and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath during Lok Sabha poll campaigns, the Supreme Court on Monday sought to know from the Election Commission the action initiated against them.

Read: Yogi, Maya ‘censured’ for communal remarks, barred from campaigning

While Mayawati had asked Muslims to vote for SP-BSP alliance, Yogi Adityanath had ‘made Ali-Bajrang Bali’ comment.

The top court said it will examine the scope and ambit of the poll panel’s powers to take action against candidates violating the Model Code of Conduct.

A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi asked a representative of the Commission to be present before it on Tuesday during the hearing.

This direction came after the EC counsel said the poll panel was “toothless” and “powerless” against hate/religious election speeches by candidates and political party leaders in violation of Model Code of Conduct.

When a violation of the Model Code of Conduct is reported, the EC first issues notice to the person person concerned and if there is no response, it issues an advisory.

But in case of repeated violations, poll panel files a complaint with the police, EC counsel submitted.

“We don’t have any powers beyond this...we can’t disqualify a candidate...,” the EC counsel told the Bench.

The EC counsel said Mayawati was asked to respond to it by April 12 for her speeches seeking votes on the basis of religion but she has not responded.

The Supreme Court had on April 8 issued notice to the Election Commission on a PIL seeking “strict action” against political parties for religion and caste-based remarks made by their spokespersons during the Lok Sabha polls.

A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had asked the poll panel to respond to the petition by Sharjah-based NRI Yoga teacher Harpreet Mansukhani.

On Monday, senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, representing the petitioner, however, pointed out that the EC has ample powers under Article 324 of the Constitution to deal with hate speeches.

Referring to religion and caste-based election speeches by political leaders, Mansukhani had said in his petition that he wanted secular environment to be maintained in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.

“The ‘undesirable development’ of appeals to religion, race, caste, community or language of politicians would hamper the objective of fundamental rights provided under the Constitution of India, this would affect the public at large”, he submitted.

The Election Commission should take strict actions against the political parties if their spokesperson or representative deliver speeches and make remark in media pertaining to the religion or caste, the petitioner said.

He also demanded setting up of a committee under the chairmanship of a retired Supreme Court Judge “to have close watch on entire election process and to check the loyalty of Election Commission”.

It has also sought a direction to the poll panel to take strict actions against media houses which hold debates on caste or religious lines.

The plea has sought a report from the poll panel on the measures adopted by it in holding “corruption free elections”.

“Our Constitution ensures a Socialist, Secular State and equality, fraternity among its citizens. Our country has a democratic set-up which is by the people, for the people and of the people.

“A new trend of giving tickets to those who spread communal hatred and do caste or religion-based politics has grown very rapidly on media and social media platform more than that the situation appears to be more alarming when we find such persons being elected for the State Assembly or Parliament...,” he submitted.

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