The Karnataka High Court has on Friday declined to entertain a petition seeking a stay on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s roadshows in Bengaluru on May 6 and 7, just days before the assembly elections in the state, saying candidates and others in the electoral fray have a legal right to undertake election campaign inter alia by organising political rallies in the public.
"The political rallies of the kind have some elements of dissemination of knowledge and information to the public at large and they generate lot of political awareness in the voting masses," a vacation bench of Justices Krishna S Dixit and Vijaykumar A Patil said.
Amrutesh N P, a Bengaluru-based advocate, filed the plea for a direction to the authorities not to grant permission for the roadshows in the state, especially in Bengaluru.
He contended duration of the rally and length of the road to be covered on May 6 and 7 being too much, should not be permitted. He also relied upon newspaper reports to seek a complete ban on holding political rallies of the kind before, during and after the election for the disruption caused to the life of the general public.
The bench said, "It needs no research to know that, rallies of the kind were held right from the 1st General Elections to the Parliament in the year 1952 and after. The political parties recognized by Election Commission of India, their candidates and others in the electoral fray have a legal right to undertake election campaign inter alia by organising political rallies in the public. Such a right, as of necessity needs to be recognised and acceded to. An argument to the contrary, falls foul of the electoral realities."
Citing various judgement, the court said that political rallies have an element of dissemination of knowledge and information about the election process to the public at large for them to exercise their franchise choice.
The bench also noted the argument that the right to hold political rallies, especially during the election process, has elements of the right to speech and expression, right to assembly and right to movement, constitutionally guaranteed under the Constitution.
“The above having been said this court places on record the broad submission made from the side of the respondents that while the political rally, if undertaken tomorrow and day after, all precautionary measures would be taken keeping in view the movement of ambulances, school and college buses, commutation of students, general public, movement of essential supply vehicles and the measures for non-escalation of environmental hazards and possible damage to public and private property during the rally. Submission that the level of inconvenience to the public would be immensely diminished by taking appropriate measures is also taken on record,” the bench said.
During the hearing, the advocate for the District Election Officer (DEO) said a total of 2,517 rallies of various sizes were held throughout the state since March 29, 2023, and no untoward incident has been reported.
The Bengaluru police commissioner, who was present before the court, submitted that the public would be informed reasonably in advance about traffic diversions.
The DEO also said that the authorities are going to consider the application for the grant of permission for the rallies to be held on May 6 and May 7 by keeping all the parameters of the law and after consulting the other officers.
He also submitted that if the permission is granted, that would be for 26 km, at the longest, on May 6 between 9 am and 1.30 pm. The roadshow will be around 6.5 km on May 7 between 9 am and 11.30 am, keeping in view the NEET examination later on the day.
"Political rallies do happen even on the foreign soil i.e., USA & UK where democracy is the norm of governance. That being position, in the absence of statutory prohibition, events of the kind cannot be banned in judicial review, as rightly contended. However, this is not to say that the events of the kind can be held with absolute immunity from regulation and control at the hands of authorities," the bench said.