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No definition, can’t bar parties for hate speech: ECI

NEW DELHI: The Election Commission of India has told the Supreme Court that it doesn’t have the legal power to de-recognise political parties or de-register candidates for ‘hate speech’. Pointing out that hate speech has not been defined under any existing law in India, the poll body said in its affidavit, “In the absence of any specific law governing ‘hate speech’ and ‘rumour mongering’ during elections, the Election Commission of India employs various provisions of IPC and the RP Act, 1951 to ensure of those members of political parties or even other persons do not make statements to the effect of creating disharmony between different sections of society.”

The ECI’s counter-affidavit was in response to a plea by BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay seeking directions to the Centre to take measures to curb hate speech. ECI’s affidavit pointed out that in the case of Pravasai Bhilai Sanghatan Vs Union of India (2014), the Supreme Court referred the question of whether the ECI should be conferred the power to re-recognise a political party or disqualify its members for hate speech, to the Law Commission of India.

The SC also asked the Law Commission to define hate speech and make recommendations to Parliament to curb the menace but the Commission’s 267th Report did not answer the court’s question, the affidavit pointed out.

The ECI said it has made amendments to the Model Code of Conduct and whenever it learns about a candidate or an agent indulging in hate speech, it takes strict note and issues show-cause notice. In its affidavit, the poll body said that it has prepared a list of do’s and don’ts to be followed by political parties and contesting candidates during elections.

“The Election Commission of India has further directed that this be given the widest possible publicity in the official language of the State and its contents brought to the knowledge of all candidates and political parties,” the affidavit read.