Poll panel moves SC against HC order on political gatherings in MP

The Election Commission has moved the Supreme Court challenging an order of the Madhya Pradesh High Court which put various conditions in holding physical gatherings by political parties for campaigning in assembly bye-polls in the state.
The poll panel, which is empowered under the Constitution to take decisions to hold elections, has issued the guidelines to allow limited political assemblies during the campaigning.
However, the Gwalior bench of the High Court put stringent restrictions on physical campaigning by candidates for the assembly bye-elections in Madhya Pradesh in view of the pandemic situation.
The high court said the political parties will have to get permission from the District Collector to hold physical gatherings and a certificate from the poll panel that virtual campaigning was not possible.
Besides, the political party will have to deposit money for procuring masks and sanitisers for the people who would be taking part in the gatherings.
The poll panel has assailed the HC order saying that the conduct and management of elections are overseen by it under the Constitution and Article 329 of the Constitution puts an express bar on judicial interference in midst of electoral process.
The plea said that the poll panel’s COVID-19 guidelines on election rallies or meetings were formulated on September 25 in exercise of its powers.
As per guidelines and the SOP of the state government, political gatherings of over 100 people with safety measures can be allowed, it said.
Besides the poll panel, a BJP candidate contesting bye-election from Gwalior constituency in Madhya Pradesh has also moved the top court challenging the HC order directing political parties to campaign by virtual mode and not by physical gathering.
BJP candidate Pradyuman Singh Tomar, who is currently energy minister in the state government, said in his plea that the high court has erred in its finding as the Election Commission under Article 324 of Constitution has issued its Covid-19 Guidelines dated September 29, permitting physical gatherings for election campaigns subject to specified restrictions.
The bye-elections to 28 seats in Madhya Pradesh will decide the fate of the seven-month-old Shivraj Singh Chouhan government.
Twenty-five seats had fallen vacant after the defection of 22 Congress MLAs — 19 of whom backed Jyotiraditya Scindia— and three others later.
Three other seats have fallen vacant after the deaths of sitting legislators.