The Election Commission has approached the Supreme Court against Madhya Pradesh High Court’s move to restrict physical political rallies in nine districts in the state in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ahead of the coming by-elections in 28 seats, the Gwalior Bench of the High Court on Wednesday asked that magistrates of the districts under its jurisdiction not give permission to any candidate or political party for public gatherings unless they can prove that virtual election campaign is not possible.
The election body said the high court order interferes with poll process and that holding elections is its domain. The order would derail the poll process, it said. The curbs will impact the level playing field for candidates, the Election Commission said.
On Thursday, the Madhya Pradesh government too had decided to approach the Supreme Court against the decision of the high court. In a video message, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan apologised to the people of Ashok Nagar’s Shadora and Bhander, where he was expected to attend two political rallies. The rallies had to be cancelled following the order of the court.
“We respect the High Court and its decision. But regarding this decision, we will go to the Supreme Court, because it is like having two laws in a single land,” Mr Chouhan told news agency ANI.
“In some parts of Madhya Pradesh, physical political rallies are allowed. It is not allowed in another part. Political rallies are being held in Bihar, but it is not allowed in a part of Madhya Pradesh. So we will seek justice from the Supreme Court,” he added.
On Wednesday, while ordering that First Information Reports be filed against Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and former Chief Minister Kamal Nath, the high court also called for strict restrictions on political rallies.
Permission for rallies can only be granted if the political party or candidate is able to satisfy the magistrate that a virtual election campaign is not possible, the court said. It also said that every physical rally has to be approved by the Election Commission.
In case a physical rally is allowed, it can be held only when the party or candidate deposits sufficient funds with the District Magistrate for double the required number of masks and sanitizers for the participants, the court added.
Twenty-eight seats of Madhya Pradesh will be up for by-election in next month. A chunk of these seats fell vacant as Jyotiraditya Scindia switched camp from the Congress to the BJP with his loyalists in March.