“The Election Commission has no power to stop campaigning even under Article 324. Campaigning is the right of a political party to explain their programmes and policies to the electorate. In suspending campaigning, the Election commission is itself standing in the way of free and fair elections,” emphasises PDT Achary, a former Secretary General of the Lok Sabha and a Constitution expert.
“Campaigning is a part of election and the right of any political party,” stresses Achary again.
Article 324 of the Constitution only gives the Election Commission the powers to conduct free and fair elections. “It does not give the EC, a Constitutional body, extraordinary powers. The EC only has powers to stop a person from campaigning when they make communal charged statements or incite violence. In those instances, the EC can ask that person to not campaign. The EC has no penal powers. The objective of Article 324 is to conduct free and fair elections,” says Achary.
On May 15, the Election Commission curtailed campaigning in West Bengal or the final phase of the general election, shutting down activity from 10 pm on Thursday, May 16. It is being stopped 19 hours before the scheduled time of ending.
The EC’s order was triggered by the violence during Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata on Tuesday. During his roadshow several men wearing saffron-coloured T-shirts entered Vidyasagar College in North Kolkata and smashed a bust of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, one of the icons of the Bengal Renaissance.
“Article 324 gives the EC powers which they can use only if there is no law to deal with a particular situation. It can only be used if there is a vacuum in the law. The EC cannot supplant the law to deal with a situation. The Election Commission is not a parallel government. They are not in charge of penal powers of the state. The EC has to ensure ‘free and fair’ elections. Nothing more than that or nothing less than that is allowed,” remarks Achary.
This is the first time such ban has been invoked on campaigning. “I don’t remember such a ban ever. No Election Commission has stopped campaigning in such a selective manner. They can stop a person, but not a political party. There were certain political leaders holding responsible positions in Uttar Pradesh wo made certain statements which had communal overtones. And in those cases, the Election Commission did not act in the way they should have acted,” highlights Achary.
The Constitution expert contends that the EC has no power to suspend or transfer any official. “First of all, one doesn’t know what these officials have done. EC can only request the state government to transfer an official because it believes a person is standing against the conduct of free and fair election. The Election Commission is a constitutional body and there are limits to their power,” points out Achary.