The Election Commission of India (ECI) has told the Supreme Court that the poll panel does not have the legal power to withdraw the recognition of a political party or disqualify its members if a party or its members indulge in hate speech.
The affidavit of the Director (Law) of the ECI pointed out that hate speech has not been defined under any existing law in India, but there are a few legislations that have a bearing on hate speech.
It said that the issue of hate speech had been dealt with by the top court in a matter and the court had referred the matter to the Law Commission of India to define hate speech and make recommendations to Parliament to strengthen the ECI to curb its menace.
The poll panel said that the Law Commission of India’s 267th Report neither answered the Court’s question as to whether the poll panel should be conferred the power to derecognise a political party, disqualifying it or its members, if a party or its members commit the offence of hate speech nor expressly made any recommendations to the Parliament to strengthen the Election Commission of India to curb the menace of hate speech.
However, the Law Commission suggested that certain amendments be made to the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, the affidavit added.
The response of the Election Commission came on a PIL seeking measures to curb hate speech.
The panel further said that “in the absence of any specific law governing ‘hate speech’ and ‘rumour mongering’ during elections, the Election Commission of India employs various provisions of the IPC and the Representation of People Act, 1951 to ensure that members of political parties or even other persons do not make statements to the effect of creating disharmony between different sections of society.”
The ECI also stated that a list of do’s and don’ts has been drawn up which has been directed to be given the widest publicity to be brought to the knowledge of all the contesting candidates, to be followed by all candidates and political parties. The Model Code of Conduct has listed certain practices as corrupt practices and electoral offences in the IPC and RP Act, it added.