No power to ban political parties, candidates for hate speech: Election Commission tells SC

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The Election Commission of India on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that it does not have the power to ban a political party or its members because of hate speech, Live Law reported.

As per the report by Scroll, the poll panel in an affidavit pointed out that since there is no specific law to curb hate speech, it has often taken action under the Indian Penal Code and the Representation of People Act to ensure that members of political parties do not make comments that can create disharmony among sections of the society.

The commission made the statements in response to a plea by lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay, asking the Centre to implement recommendations of the Law Commission Report 267 on hate speech.

“The injury to the citizens is extremely large because ‘hate speech and rumor-mongering’ has the potential of provoking individuals or society to commit acts of terrorism, genocides, ethnic cleansing, etc,” Upadhyay’s petition said, The Hindu reported.

While the Law Commission report does not give the Election Commission the power to derecognise parties and disqualify candidates, it has recommended amendments in the criminal law to “penalise the offence of incitement to hatred and causing fear, alarm or provocation of violence in certain cases”.

The Election Commission highlighted the suggestion as it said that hate speech was “often interconnected with appeals to religion, caste, community” during the poll campaign.

The poll panel in its affidavit also referred to a judgement in the 2017 Abhiram Singh case, which had held that “any appeal to vote or refrain from voting for a candidate on the grounds of religion, caste, race, community or language by a candidate or his agent to the electors would amount to corrupt practice under the 1951 Act”.

The Election Commission said that judgment was conveyed to the political parties in 2017 to prevent them from making communal statements. The panel had taken a “strict note” of the complaints and sent show cause notices to the candidates or agents, Live Law reported.

“The Election Commission takes various measures against the defaulting candidate/person, based on his or her reply, such as issuing advisories cautioning them or prohibiting them from campaigning for a specified period of time or even initiation of a criminal complaint in the case of repeat offenders,” the affidavit said, as per the report.

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