Courtroom rap for Election Fee

EVEN as the Election Commission (EC) of India is conducting the Bihar Assembly elections and bypolls in 11 states amid restrictions necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, it has hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. The Supreme Court has stayed the EC order that had revoked the ‘star campaigner’ status of former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath. The senior Congress leader is under fire from his political rivals for making objectionable remarks against CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan and BJP candidate Imarti Devi. The commission claims that Nath not only repeatedly violated the model code of conduct but also ‘completely disregarded’ the advisory issued to him, while the former CM says the EC took action against him without issuing a showcause notice or giving him a hearing on a complaint lodged by the BJP.

Taking the EC to task for exceeding its brief, the apex court asked a probing question: ‘How can you determine who is their (party’s) leader?’ The poll panel’s argument that Nath’s plea had become infructuous as campaigning had ended cut no ice — and rightly so — with the Bench. Not for the first time, the EC has been accused of ignoring or condoning model code violations committed by leaders of the ruling party. Such allegations make it critical for the commission to be more cautious and avoid decisions that reek of partisanship. No party should have a grouse if the EC adopts the same yardstick while dealing with complaints from all sides.

For the record, the commission had ordered the BJP early this year to remove a couple of leaders from its list of star campaigners for the Delhi polls over their controversial speeches. The EC then barred them from campaigning for a few days after their replies to the showcause notices were found unsatisfactory. The due process was apparently not followed in Nath’s case, prompting him to move the Supreme Court. The model code of conduct has a long list of guidelines for politicians and political parties. Eventually, it all boils down to how fairly and objectively the EC interprets the written word and takes exemplary action to deter the violators.

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