New Delhi:For the first time in independent India, the Election Commission on Monday cracked the whip and barred 4 politicians – Yogi Adityanath, Mayawati, Maneka Gandhi and Azam Khan — from campaigning, for violating the model code of conduct. While Adityanath has been barred from canvassing for the next three days for his communal utterances, Mayawati has been barred for 48 hours for her provocative speech in Deoband.

This means the two leaders will miss the last day of the campaign ahead of the second phase of election on April 18. Eight constituencies of Uttar Pradesh will vote in the second phase. The ban is, however, expected to affect Mayawati’s BSP more because she is the sole star campaigner for the party.

After announcing the initial ban on Adityanath and Mayawati, the EC cracked down on two more senior leaders — Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan, who has been barred for three days starting Tuesday for his “indecent and derogatory” comment against Jaya Prada; and Union minister Maneka Gandhi, who has been barred for 48 hours for communal utterances.

The commission’s action came hours after the Supreme Court pulled it up for failing to take action in cases of model code violation and questioning if it knew what powers it has to punish errant political leaders. At the Deoband meeting, Mayawati had warned the Muslim community against getting split between the Congress and her grand alliance, as the split vote would benefit the BJP. In other words, they should vote for her en masse.

The speech invited the EC’s wrath as appealing to caste or communal feelings to secure votes is barred under the model code. Days later, hitting out at Mayawati, Yogi Adityanath said, “If the Congress, the SP and the BSP have faith in Ali, then we too have faith in Bajrang Bali” – a comment that outraged the opposition.

While Ali is revered by Muslims as Prophet Mohammad’s successor, Bajrang Bali is another name for Lord Hanuman. Maneka Gandhi, the BJP candidate from Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh, had asked a gathering of Muslims to vote for her, saying otherwise she might not be inclined to be responsive to their requests for jobs after getting elected.

The commission said the minister, who handles the Women and Child Development portfolio, had violated rules that bar appeal to caste and communal feelings, as well as one that bans “corrupt practices” like bribery and intimidation. In case of Azam Khan, the commission said his comments on electoral rival Jaya Prada “may be construed as being repugnant to the honour and dignity of women”.

Taking note of a ban on the leader in 2014, the commission said he has not “changed his way of campaigning and he is using very objectionable language”. The three-day ban on Khan will weigh heavily on the Samajwadi leader’s campaign time. Elections in Rampur will be held on April 23 and the campaigning has to end by the evening of April 20.

It would leave him only two days to campaign. Elections for Sultanpur, from where Maneka Gandhi is contesting, will be held on May 12. So, she is least effected. During the ban period, these politicians cannot hold any public meetings, public processions, public rallies, road shows and interviews and make public utterances in media.

The Congress had approached the EC with a request for such action in view of some leaders habitually violating its reprimands on daily basis with impunity. Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi told a Press conference that yet another restraint order may come on Prime Minister Modi and BJP President Amit Shah’s utterances, especially during campaigning in Maharashtra.

Wait for the EC’s order, he said. In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the poll panel had cracked the whip on BJP president Amit Shah and SP leader Azam Khan, banning them from holding public meetings in Uttar Pradesh, and had directed the state chief secretary to initiate criminal proceedings against them in case there was a violation.

New Delhi: The provocation for the EC’s action against four politicians on Monday was the Supreme Court’s sharp observations, wherein it asked the poll body to respond immediately to hate speeches. Prior to the tongue lashing, the poll panel had pleaded it was “toothless” and “powerless” when the model code of conduct is violated.

In a sharp jibe at the Election Commission, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said: “This is something you are duty bound to do. You have to be prompt, you have to act immediately. You can’t drag it.” Taking up a petition filed by NRI Harpreet Mansukhani, the bench sought to know from the EC, the nature of action that shall be initiated against politicians for alleged hate speeches or statements seeking votes on the basis of religion or caste.

The Election Commission informed the court that its power was circumscribed and so it could only issue notice, then an advisory and lodge a criminal complaint for repeated violations. The court said that then it was appropriate to examine the scope of powers of the poll panel that is also a constitutional body.

Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing for the petitioner, contended that the Election Commission already had vast powers under Article 324 of the Constitution. The bench specifically asked the EC counsel what action did it take against Adityanath on his statement on ‘Modiji ki Sena’ (Modi’s Army). The EC counsel said the matter was closed after the UP CM’s explanation.