Are you toothless to deal with hate speech: SC to EC

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday ticked off the Election Commission for being “toothless” in acting against politicians breaching the model code of conduct through hate speeches and appealing for votes in the name of religion and forced a chastised EC to impose a campaign ban on UP CM Yogi Adityanath, BSP chief Mayawati, Union minister Maneka Gandhi and SP leader Azam Khan.

In reply to the SC’s notice seeking the EC’s response on a PIL by Harpreet Mansukhani seeking strict action against those who use caste, religion and hate speech during campaigning, the poll panel through counsel Amit Sharma told SC, “Power of EC in cases of violation of the model code of conduct by making hate speeches on grounds of religion & caste is circumscribed to issuing notice and upon consideration of the reply to issue advisories.”

This response from the EC came when a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna asked what action the EC had taken against Mayawati for appealing to Muslim voters and against Adityanath for his “Ali… Bajrang Bali” retort. The bench asked the EC whether “it was toothless to take any action and whether it would only issue advisories to erring politicians”.

EC’s counsel Amit Sharma informed the court that notices were issued to both Mayawati and Adityanath on April 11 but they had not filed their replies.

The bench asked what powers the EC had if the person did not respond to its notice. Sharma said, “We have no powers to de-register or de-recognise a party. Only power available with the commission is to file an FIR with police for initiation of criminal proceedings if a person repeatedly violates MCC despite being issued advisories earlier.”
The EC may have to explain on Tuesday how it decided to take action when Mayawati and Adityanath had not filed reply to the notices.

The EC counsel said, “EC does not have any power to deal with such instances of making speeches provoking enmity and hatred between classes of citizens or for voting for any person on the ground of religion, caste etc.” The SC, in its order, referred to the stringent provisions of the Representation of the People Act under Sections 123(3) and 125, which if used, could see a candidate getting disqualified if he or his election agent appealed to voters in the name of religion or made any hate speech.

Dissatisfied with the EC counsel’s response and the unusually soft approach taken by the commission against errant politicians, the bench said, “We would like to examine the matter. A representative of the EC, who is well conversant with the issue raised, will appear in the court on Tuesday at 10.30 am.” The SC also asked petitioner’s counsel Sanjay Hegde to assist the court.

The EC submitted action-taken report on various politicians during the campaigning for alleged breach of model code. However, only three pertained to the 2019 election campaign. Apart from the above incidents, the EC said it had asked Adityanath to be careful in future after he used “Modiji ki sena” during electioneering.

In south India, the EC said it had issued a notice on April 9 to K Chandrasekhar Rao of TRS for violation of model code on a complaint filed by M Rama Raju, state president of VHP.