NEW DELHI: On a day it drew flak from the SC for failing to rein in controversial statements of politicians, the Election Commission barred four senior leaders – UP CM Yogi Adityanath, Union minister Maneka Gandhi, BSP chief Mayawati and SP leader Azam Khan – from campaigning for 48-72 hours for their “highly provocative” or “derogatory” remarks made during the course of campaigning.

Adityanath and Khan were prohibited for 72 hours, starting 6am and 10am, respectively, on April 16, from holding public meetings, processions, rallies, road shows and interviews and public utterances in media in connection with the ongoing polls. A similar ban, though for 48 hours starting 6am and 10am, respectively, on April 16, was placed on Mayawati and Maneka for what the EC termed as appeals to communal feelings for votes.

However, Adityanath and Mayawati stood by their remarks. “I used the term ‘green virus’ for the thought which practises vote bank politics on religious lines… Such narrow thought is harmful for healthy politics… Those practising such politics have to be eliminated just the way a virus is removed,” the CM said.

Yogi Maya

Mayawati called the EC “anti-Dalit” and accused it of working at the behest of BJP.

The Election Commission said on Monday it “strongly condemned” UP CM Yogi Adityanath for his “green virus” and “Ali-Bajrang Bali” remarks made while campaigning in Meerut on April 9 and “censures” him for the “misconduct”. Passing a similar verdict against BSP chief Mayawati for her “highly provocative speech” on April 7 at Deoband, Saharanpur, asking Muslims to vote unitedly in favour of their candidate, the EC concluded that both Adityanath and Mayawati’s remarks “contaminated” the electoral process.

Within hours of issuing the orders against Adityanath and Mayawati, the EC came out with a similar order prohibiting campaigning by Union minister Maneka Gandhi for 48 hours for her April 11 remarks in Sultanpur suggesting that she will not recommend Muslims for jobs if they don’t vote for her. SP leader Azam Khan was pulled up for his “indecent, derogatory and totally uncalled for” remarks against Jaya Prada in Rampur on Sunday. Maneka and Khan were “strongly condemned” for their statements and reprimanded for the misconduct.

Indeed, the EC seemed set to slap another notice on Khan for his alleged remark that he would make the district magistrate of Rampur wipe Mayawati’s shoes.

Reacting to the EC order, Mayawati said: “Shah and Modi continue to spread hatred. But they have been given a free run to create discord. Yogi tried to divide people on the lines of Ali and Bajrang Bali. I did not start it. Modi has been warned against using the defence services in his speeches but he continues to do so. The EC has not had the courage to issue a notice to the real culprit, Narendra Modi.”

The action came after the SC frowned upon the poll watchdog for failing to curb controversial utterances, and termed it “toothless”. However, an EC functionary clarified that its action against the four senior leaders, taken under Article 324 of the Constitution, was not a fallout of the SC questioning the EC. He said the poll body had met on Sunday to discuss the leaders’ replies to its notices and decide on possible action.

TOI had reported on May 12 that the EC, concerned at the repeated communal references by senior leaders during the Lok Sabha campaign despite the SC banning such appeals, was contemplating stern action, including temporarily banning repeat and serious offenders from campaigning.

This is not the first time that the EC has barred top political leaders from campaigning. BJP president Amit Shah and Azam Khan were banned from holding public meetings and rallies in UP during the last Lok Sabha polls. BJP leader Giriraj Singh, too, was barred from campaigning in Bihar and Jharkhand in 2014.

On why the EC barred Adityanath and Azam Khan for 72 hours while limiting Mayawati’s and Maneka’s debarment to 48 hours, EC sources said punishment for the CM was higher as this was the second time he was found guilty of having violated the model code. The EC had earlier let him off with advice to be careful with his public utterances. Similarly, Khan was barred from campaigning in UP even in the last Lok Sabha polls and was censured. The EC said he had not changed his ways and was still using objectionable language.

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