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Former Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath moves SC against EC’s decision

Congress leader and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath on Saturday moved the Supreme Court challenging an Election Commission order revoking his “star campaigner” status for violations of the model code during campaign for the bypolls in 28 assembly constituencies in the state.

Besides seeking quashing of the EC’s October 30 order, the Congress has sought framing of appropriate guidelines for speeches during campaigning by star campaigners or campaigners, “keeping in mind the right to freedom of speech and expression and concept of democratic elections”.

Nath, who is currently the president of Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee, has said in his plea that the EC has passed the order without any notice or hearing him based on a complaint by the BJP against a speech delivered on October 13.

“It is submitted that the impugned order (of EC) is illegal, arbitrary, unreasoned, passed in complete violation of basic canons of natural justice and in negation of fair play and therefore, deserves to be quashed. Further, no notice has been issued to the petitioner (Nath) with regard to the impugned order in complete violation of principles of natural injustice,” the plea, filed through advocate-on-record Varun Chopra, said.

While a political party pays for expenditure of a star campaigner, the candidate pays for expenditure of other campaigners.

Earlier in the day, senior lawyer and Congress Rajya Sabha member Vivek Tankha told PTI that the former chief minister has challenged the EC’s decision on various grounds and an urgent hearing on his plea would be sought.

In his plea, Nath said that EC has passed the October 30 order and has revoked his name from the list of ‘star campaigners’ of the Indian National Congress on the “ground of repeated violation of model code of conduct (MCC) and advisories” of the poll panel.

It alleged that the order is “completely unreasoned and passed without application of mind”.

The plea said that MCC has been in force for 12 districts of Madhya Pradesh since September 29 when the schedule for by-elections to 28 seats in the state legislative assembly, which are to be held on November 3, was announced by the EC.

In his plea, the former Union minister and nine-time Member of Parliament has claimed that leaders of the BJP have been “repeatedly making statements ex-facie in violation” of the model code during campaigning for the by-elections.

“It is reiterated that despite use of such language in public view and blatant violation of the Model Code of Conduct, the Respondent No.1 (EC) has not taken any such action against any leaders of BJP or the party itself for allowing its leaders to repeatedly violate provisions of MCC,” it said.

The plea has also raised several questions of law of public importance, including whether the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed to Nath has been abrogated by the EC.

“Whether restriction on speech and expression, that too in a manner that is arbitrary and contrary to natural justice, restrains the free exchange of ideas to the voter for making an informed choice and thus negates the fundamental right of the petitioner (Nath) to have freedom of speech and expression and the fundamental right of voters to know?” said one of the questions of law in the plea.

“Whether by revocation of petitioner from campaigning as star campaigner, the principle of free and fair and level playing field in elections have been impeded by the Respondent No.1 (EC),” it said.

The plea said EC ought to have granted a hearing to Nath before taking the “drastic step” of revoking his status as a ‘star campaigner’.

It said that for a vibrant democracy and for conduct of free and fair elections, it is necessary that voters, candidates, campaigners and workers are not unduly restrained from exercising their freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the Constitution.