Following the directions of the Delhi High Court, the ECI has now directed all political parties not to use public funds or public places to carry out any activity that would amount to propagating the symbol of their party.
Following the directions of Delhi High Court in a Writ Petition concerning the BSP, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has now issued directions that no political party shall either use or allow the use of any public funds or public place or government machinery for carrying out any activity that would amount to advertisement for the party or propagating the election symbol allotted to the Party.
In 2009, the ECI received three petitions raising the issue that statues of ‘Elephant’ (the reserved symbol of the BSP) and Ms. Mayawati, President of the BSP and the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, have been installed in various places, including public parks, in Uttar Pradesh, at government expense. All the three petitions requested for freezing of the party symbol ‘Elephant.’ One of the petitioners also approached the Supreme Court in 2010, requesting the court to not unveil/open the statues and to order that public money not be spend on the glorification of a party’s symbol.
The Supreme Court asked the ECI to take an appropriate decision on the earlier petitions. The BSP, for its part, responded by saying that the statues of ‘Elephant’ being installed are not an exact replica of the party symbol and that the party symbol has an elephant with its trunk lowered while the statues are of an elephant with its trunk raised in a welcome pose. BSP also mentioned that such elephant statues are found in many public places, including temples. The Party also added that the Indian National Congress (INC) had named many programmes, projects and public places after its leaders. The BSP’s written statement further added that earlier governments of the INC and the BJP had also built such statues.
The BSP also reminded the ECI that its jurisdiction was limited to superintending, directing and controlling elections, during the elections only, and that the body has nothing to do with the day-to-day functioning of the government in a state during non-election period.
After hearing both sides, the ECI said that the petitioners have not pointed out any violation of any direction or instruction of the ECI within the meaning of para 16A of the Symbols Order by BSP. Hence, the question of freezing the symbol does not arise.
While the ECI did not find any violation of the Model Code of Conduct in the installation of statues, it did mention that such activities vitiate the level playing field and are a violation in spirit, if not in letter.
The ECI also mentioned that it would take appropriate steps and measures at the time of elections to see that the statutes of Ms. Mayawati and BSP’s symbol ‘elephant,’ do not disturb the level playing field and give undue advantage to BSP vis-à-vis other political parties.
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The Delhi High Court Order
The Delhi High Court, while disposing a writ petition on this issue, directed the ECI to detect the lacunae and issue relevant directions so that no political party in power exploit such rules in future.
The HC in its order said:
“A political party in power cannot use development activities carried out by it, and which the government in any case is expected to perform, to propagate its symbol or its leaders so as to come in the way of a free and fair election. The performance of a political party in governance should be allowed to speak for itself.”
The Court directed the ECI to issue appropriate guidelines to prevent any ‘recognised political party in power from using public places and public funds for propagating its reserved symbol and / or its leaders, so as to come in the way of conducting of free, fair and peaceful election and to safeguard the interest of the general public and the electorate in future’
Following these directions from the Delhi High Court, the ECI sought the views of the recognized parties on the issue. The parties supported the idea of having guidelines. The ECI then stated that no political party will use any public funds or public place to propagate the election symbol of the party. It also mentioned that any such violation would be treated as a violation of the directions of the ECI and that appropriate action would be initiated.