New Delhi: Calling the Congress party the “cry baby” of this election, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley Tuesday said the model code of conduct cannot encroach the right to free speech. He said that political parties have developed a new tendency to excessively allege violation of the model code of conduct (MCC) by their opponents. Those complaining to the Election Commission about violation of model election code must keep in mind that right to free speech has not been diluted by the MCC in any way, Jaitley noted.
“The MCC cannot encroach the right to free speech. The two have to exist harmoniously,” Jaitley wrote in a blogpost titled ‘Model Code of Conduct Does Not Take Away the Right to Free Speech’. Any power exercised by the Election Commission under Article 324 cannot relate to areas which are covered by the legislation or regulation but will be confined to areas where legislation does not occupy any space, he said.
Article 324 of the Constitution gives to the Election Commission the power to take all necessary steps in order to ensure the conduct of free and fair elections.
“Of late, a tendency has developed amongst the political parties to excessively allege violation of the MCC by their opponents. The Congress Party as the ‘Cry Baby’ of this election, is leading the pack,” Jaitley said. He said that while submitting memorandums on violation of the MCC with regard to political speech, the parties must bear in mind that the MCC cannot dilute the Right to Free Speech.
Referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to first time voters that they should keep in mind the sacrifice of martyrs while casting vote, Jaitley said “no party or candidate was mentioned”. Modi, during an election rally in Maharashtra on April 9, had said, “Can your first vote be dedicated to those who carried out the air strike. I want to tell the first-time voters: can your first vote be dedicated to the veer jawans (valiant soldiers) who carried out the air strike in Pakistan. Can your first vote be dedicated to the veer shaheed (brave martyrs) of Pulwama (terror attack)”.
The Election Commission did not find any violation of its instructions on invoking armed forces in poll campaigns under the MCC in Modi’s speech.
Referring to Modi’s comment in Wardha about Rahul Gandhi contesting from Wayanad, Jaitley said the Prime Minister only commented on the demographic composition of the constituency. “If such speeches are considered by anyone as violative of the MCC, that may actually run the danger of the MCC’s constitutionality in relation to free speech being called into question. To avoid such a situation, the memorialist must keep in mind that the Right to Free Speech has not been diluted by the MCC in any way,” he said.
The Congress had last month approached the EC seeking action against Modi’s “divisive” speech in Wardha on April 1 where he had reportedly said the opposition party was “scared” to field its leaders from constituencies where the majority dominates, indicating that the Kerala’s Wayanad constituency had more voters from the minority community.
He made the remark in reference to Congress chief Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from a second Lok Sabha seat Wayanad in Kerala, in addition to his traditional constituency of Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi.
The Election Commission has given a clean chit to Modi for his comments on demographic composition of Wayanad.
Another illustration of Congress approaching Election Commission, Jaitley said, relates to the Gandhi family principle of “restrictive free speech”.
“They can call even an honest Prime Minister a ‘Chor’. Others don’t possess that right,” he said.
At a rally in Uttar Pradesh on Saturday, Modi in his speech attacked Rahul Gandhi by invoking his father former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
“Your father was termed Mr Clean by his courtiers, but his life ended as bhrashtachari no 1,” Modi had said, drawing sharp criticisms from opposition leaders.