The Delhi High Court has instructed the Election Commission of India (ECI) to take lawful action against Congress MP Rahul Gandhi for referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, and businessman Gautam Adani as 'pickpockets'. The court, noting that such remarks were in poor taste, has provided the constitutional body with an eight-week timeframe to implement the necessary action.
"Despite the statements being in poor taste, the court has decided not to keep the issue pending since the ECI is taking action. Consequently, the matter is now disposed of," the court declared in the order.
Upon learning that Gandhi had not responded to the ECI's notice issued on 23 November, which warned of action against him if he did not reply by 26 November, the court ordered action against him.
Nonetheless, the court did not provide explicit instructions regarding the measures the poll panel should implement against Gandhi.
In the previous month, Gandhi received a show-cause notice from the ECI on 23 November due to his derogatory remarks, 'panauti and pickpocket', aimed at PM Modi. The commission further requested him to provide a response before 26 November.
The BJP had expressed that it was inappropriate for a highly ranked leader to use such language.
In its notification, the EC reminded Gandhi that, according to the Model Code of Conduct, leaders are prohibited from making unverified accusations against their political opponents.
The BJP lodged a complaint with the ECI, refuting Gandhi's claim that their government approved waivers amounting to Rs 14,00,000 crore for industrialists, stating that it was not based on factual information.
The notice from the Election Commission stated that the term "panauti" apparently falls within the purview of the restriction under section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, which pertains to corrupt practices.
The notice reminded Gandhi about the stipulations of Section 123, Clause 2, Subsection (ii). It states that any individual who tries to convince a candidate or a voter that they or someone they care about will face divine disapproval or spiritual condemnation is considered to be disrupting the free exercise of the candidate's or voter's electoral rights.
The Election Commission, in its announcement, cited the Supreme Court's view that the right to reputation is seen as an integral component of the right to life safeguarded by Article 21.
"Accordingly, you are requested to provide your explanation on the allegation made and to show causes as to why action as deemed fit for alleged violation of Model Code of Conduct and relevant penal provisions is not initiated by the commission. Your reply, if any, will be reached by 6 pm of 25 November. If no reply is received by then, action deemed fit will be taken by the commission," the notice said.
Nishtha Anushree is Senior Sub-editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @nishthaanushree.
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