The Supreme Court on Tuesday told the Election Commission “no further order” was required at this stage after the poll watchdog informed the court of the action it had taken against four political big shots for provocative speeches.
Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjiv Khanna expressed satisfaction with the steps taken but the commission couldn’t avoid a wry comment from the bench.
“So you seem to have got your powers back,” the bench remarked after senior advocate C.A. Sundaram, who represented the EC, submitted details of the action taken.
“Yes, your Lordships, we have found that we have powers,” Sundaram said.
The court was alluding to the claim made on Monday by the commission’s standing counsel, Amit Sharma, that the poll panel was a “toothless” body with no powers to disqualify candidates or restrain them from making hate speeches.
That had prompted Justice Gogoi to warn the counsel that the court could direct the presence of the chief election commissioner within 30 minutes.
Within hours of the court’s rebuke, the EC had on Monday evening banned Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan from campaigning for 72 hours, and Union minister Maneka Gandhi and Bahujan Samaj Party boss Mayawati for 48 hours.
Adityanath was hauled up for his comments on April 9, when he referred to a “green virus’’ and spoke of “Bajrangbali” (Hanuman).
Mayawati had two days earlier made a direct appeal to Muslims to vote en bloc for her alliance.
Maneka has been reprimanded for comments billed as corrupt practice, and Khan for general conduct because of his comments on actress-turned-politician Jaya Prada.
On Tuesday, the commission submitted in the court details of the steps it had taken against the four leaders. An official from the commission was present, as the bench had ordered on Monday, but the court did not ask him any questions. “No further order is required at this stage,” the bench said.
Justice Gogoi turned down Mayawati’s plea for permission to file an intervention application in the matter. Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, who appeared for Mayawati, pleaded that the BSP leader be allowed to file the intervention application as no ex-parte order could be passed without hearing her.
The bench said the BSP leader was free to explore the statutory remedy of filing a separate appeal against the poll panel’s order in the appropriate forum.
The court was dealing with a public interest plea filed by Harpreet Mansukhani, an NRI from the UAE, who has sought action against political leaders who exploit religious or caste sentiments.
The PIL has also asked for a committee headed by a retired Supreme Court judge to monitor the conduct of the Election Commission and media houses, contending that the poll panel was not disqualifying such candidates and that the media was reporting the inflammatory speeches.
The bench granted liberty to senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, who appeared for Mansukhani, to approach the court if the petitioner felt aggrieved by any actions of candidates.