The Supreme Court issued a notice to the Election Commission of India based on a petition from the Congress accusing the poll panel of inaction against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah.
The court scheduled the next hearing for May 2. The Congress has accused Modi and Shah of violating the Model Code of Conduct. The bench comprises Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Dipak Gupta and Sanjeev Khanna.
All India Mahila Congress president and parliamentarian Sushmita Dev had moved the petition seeking expeditious action against the poll panel on Monday. She alleged that Modi and Shah had indulged in hate speech and had repeatedly used the armed forces for “political propaganda”. Modi also held a rally after casting his vote in Gujarat on April 23, which was a violation of the code of conduct, Dev’s petition claimed.
The petition asked the court to direct the Election Commission to decide the complaints filed against Modi and Shah, “without any delay or demur, and in any case not later than 24 hours from the [court’s] order”. A delay of more than three weeks in decision-making, or the absence of a decision, are “in fact decisions in themselves”, the petitioner had argued.
The first complaint against Modi was filed on April 5 after he had brought up the religious demographics of Wayanad, from where Congress President Rahul Gandhi decided to contest the elections. On April 9, at a rally in Maharashtra, Modi urged first-time voters to dedicate their votes to defense forces. Nine days later, the Election Commission had said it was still reviewing the speech.
“The lack of decision despite cogent evidence, representations and exhortations to the Election Commission demonstrates abdication and indecision and a complete absence of justice, in ensuring a level playing field,” the petition said.
The petition added that other candidates who have breached electoral laws so far have had directions passed against them, including temporary bans from campaigning. However, the poll panel has been “guarded and oblivious” to the complaints and evidence given by the Congress against Modi and Shah, the plea said.
“The slow response of the ECI in this regard is also contended to be a tacit endorsement of Modi’s and Shah’s conduct, in effect giving them a clean chit despite MCC [Model Code of Conduct] violations,” the petition said.
The petition noted that the complaint and cause of action would become redundant once the elections are over. Such “deliberate and willful violations”, when unaddressed, “send a message of endorsement, not just to the offenders, but to all party functionaries down the line”, it said.
The Election Commission had in March issued instructions not to use or mention the defense forces while campaigning. It has warned Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath and BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi for violating the directive.
On April 23, the Congress had appealed to the Election Commission to bar Modi from campaigning for 48 to 72 hours for repeatedly violating the Model Code of Conduct. The party claimed that after casting his vote that day, he was part of a long procession and had delivered a speech.