Bal Thackeray was banned for communal speech, what about PM Modi?

While the ECI’s role is being questioned, it is worth remembering how the body once disenfranchised Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray during the late 1980’s for six years on account of communal speech.
Bal Thackeray was banned for communal speech, what about PM Modi?
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Widespread calls demanding the Election Commission of India (ECI) to ‘wake up’ and take action against the Prime Minister Narendra Modi were made across social media platforms on Sunday, April 21, after a video of the PM making remarks against Indian Muslims emerged. Speaking at an election rally in Rajasthan’s Banswara, PM Modi said that if the Congress party were voted to power, then they would distribute the country’s wealth among “infiltrators” and “those who have more children”. 

Referring to the tenure of the Congress Government under the then PM Manmohan Singh between 2004-2014, PM Modi said, “Earlier, when they (Congress) was in power, they said that the Muslims have the first right to the country’s wealth. This means, they will distribute this wealth to those who have more children, to infiltrators. Should your hard-earned money be given to infiltrators?” 

It must be noted that Modi has taken what Manmohan Singh had said out of context. The speech by Manmohan which PM Modi was referring to was made in 2006, when the former PM was addressing the issue of minority empowerment. The full text of what Manmohan Singh said: 

“I believe our collective priorities are clear: agriculture, irrigation and water resources, health, education, critical investment in rural infrastructure, and the essential public investment needs of general infrastructure, along with programmes for the upliftment of SC/STs, other backward classes, minorities and women and children. The component plans for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes will need to be revitalized. We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably in the fruits of development. They must have the first claim on resources. The Centre has a myriad other responsibilities whose demands will have to be fitted within the over-all resource availability.”

Dr Singh’s office had clarified back in 2006 itself that what he meant was that the “first claim on resources” refers to all the “priority” areas listed above, including programmes for the upliftment of SCs, STs, OBCs, women and children and minorities.

Modi then went on to claim that the Congress Manifesto talks about taking a stock of gold that their “mothers and daughters” have and will distribute the wealth. “Brothers and sisters, these urban Naxal thoughts will not let even your mangalsutra escape, they will go this far,” he said. Though the Congress manifesto does mention elevating the poor, it makes no mention of giving away gold from others to poor people. 

Invoking Hindu religious faith and Ram temple have been a constant when it comes to BJP’s election campaigning and the ECI have so far been silent for most part regarding the same. The latest remarks by the PM has led many to question the silence of the constitutional body. 

Violation of Model Code of Conduct, RPA

The very first paragraph of the ECI’s Model Code of Conduct (MCC) says, “No party or candidate shall include in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic.”

Poorna Ravishankar, a Bengaluru-based advocate explains PM Modi’s speech is a violation of MCC and also falls under Section 123 (3) of the Representation of People Act, 1951 which says that, “The appeal by a candidate or his agent or by any other person with the consent of a candidate,  to vote or refrain from voting based on his/her religion, race, caste, community, or language is a corrupt electoral practice.”

PM Modi can also be booked under Section 123 (3A) of the RPA, which “denounces any attempt by a candidate to promote feelings of enmity or hatred among citizens on these grounds during elections”. 

And according to section 8(A) of the RPA, a person who is found guilty of corrupt practice can be disqualified from contesting elections for a period not exceeding 6 years. They can also be disqualified for a period of six years from voting in any elections under Section 11(A) of the RPA. 

Poorna goes on to suggest that even in normal situation, Modi’s speech can be termed as ‘hate speech’ and the police can take suo motu cognisance under section 153(A) [persons who indulge in wanton vilification or attacks upon the religion] of the Indian Penal Code. 

Thackeray was banned in 1980’s for hate speech

It is worth remembering that the Election Commission once disenfranchised Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray during the late 1980’s for six years on account of hate speech. 

Campaigning for Dr Ramesh Prabhoo, a Shiv Sena candidate, during the by-election to the Maharashtra assembly in 1987, Thackeray had used Muslim names and also made an appeal to Hindu’s to vote for a fellow Hindu. He had said, “The victory will not be mine or that of the Shiv Sena or Dr Prabhoo. It will be the victory of Hinduism, you will be instrumental in this victory and you should be. You have the right to get rid of the difficulties faced by your caste, creed, gods and the Hindu religion. Whatever Masjids are there, if one starts digging the same, one will find Hindu temples . A person by the name of Prabhoo who is contesting the election in the name of religion should had sent to the assembly.”

Soon after this, Kunte, the Congress candidate moved the Bombay High Court against both Thackeray and Prabhoo for violating the RPA. In April 1989, the court upheld the plea and voided Prabhoo’s election win. They were issued notices for violating Section 123 of the RPA, as mentioned above. 

Speaking to TNM, Sanjay Hegde, senior advocate of the Supreme Court said that the ECI has a vast repository of power under Article 324 of the Indian Constitution. “The Courts have consistently upheld the actions taken by the ECI under this provision. It’s not that the ECI does not have power, it’s just that they lack the will”. 

“Even if the ECI sends a notice to PM Modi questioning why they shouldn’t take action, it would send a huge message. If it doesn’t take any action, then it’s a signal for increased speech of this kind, for not just the PM but for others as well,” adds Hegde.

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