The Election Commission of India (ECI) has moved to the Supreme Court challenging the Madhya Pradesh High Court order calling for political parties to conduct virtual campaigning for the upcoming by-elections.
In the opinion of the ECI, the High Court order interferes with the poll process and that holding election is the domain of the Commission. On October 20, BJP leader Pradyumn Singh Tomar assailed the order of the Madhya Pradesh High Court restricting physical gatherings for campaigning. This challenge comes just a day after this activity by the BJP leader took place.
BJP leader moved the Supreme Court to challenge Madhya Pradesh High Court order directing virtual election campaign for by-elections. According to The Election Commission, this order passed by the High Court would affect the poll process and the level playing field for candidates. In furtherance, the ECI also added that guidelines for conducting polls during the COVID-19 pandemic are already in place. An application was made by the ECI was an urgent hearing of the case. A PIL highlighted that various political parties were organizing physical campaigning, which was increasing the spread of COVID-19. The plea also claimed that State authorities were not taking any action against such political parties and their leaders. In the impugned order, the High Court directed that political parties shall conduct election campaigns by virtual mode and not by physical gathering and also restrained the District Magistrates of all districts from issuing any permission to conduct physical campaigning unless it could be proved that conduct of virtual campaigning was not possible. If approval from the Election Commission of India is received in writing, only then the permission of the District Magistrate for physical election campaign shall take effect; the High Court said. There were certain conditions that were to be fulfilled by the political parties like they were required to deposit money with the District Magistrate and were also directed to purchase masks and sanitizers for double the number of persons expected at the gathering. On 25th September, a press note issued by the Election Commission of India declared the conduct of by-elections in various states, including the by-election for 28 seats in the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly. In Clause 13(3) of the guidelines of the press note, ECI specifically permitted “public gatherings” and “election rallies”, subject to COVID-19 guidelines being followed. On 8th October, the Centre permitted political gatherings beyond the existing limit of 100 persons in those assembly areas where elections are being held, subject to the condition specified therein. It was further directed that the detailed Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) shall be issued by the respective state governments. Following this, the state government also allowed public gatherings, subject to restrictions.