SC criticises disparaging BJP ads against TMC, refuses to interfere with HC order | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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SC criticises disparaging BJP ads against TMC, refuses to interfere with HC order

May 27, 2024 12:32 PM IST

On May 20, a single-judge bench of the Calcutta high court restrained the BJP from publishing certain advertisements containing allegations against the TMC

The Supreme Court on Monday sharply criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for issuing advertisements deemed “disparaging” against West Bengal’s ruling party Trinamool Congress (TMC) as it refused to interfere with a Calcutta high court order barring the BJP from publishing advertisements that allegedly violated the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) during the ongoing Lok Sabha elections.

The Supreme Court. (ANI)
The Supreme Court. (ANI)

“We have seen the advertisements and what is in them...Prima facie, these advertisements are disparaging. You can say you are the best, but you cannot say some other things about others...We can’t lend our hands to promote further acrimony,” a vacation bench comprising justices J K Maheshwari and KV Viswanathan said.

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The bench was emphatic that political parties should adhere to the highest standards of integrity and conduct during the electoral process. “This [maligning opponents] will not be in the interest of the voters. It will only degenerate the debate,” it told senior counsel PS Patwalia, who appeared for the BJP.

The court’s remarks came in response to a May 20 decision by a single-judge bench of the Calcutta high court, which restrained the BJP from publishing certain advertisements containing allegations against the TMC and its workers until June 4, the day Lok Sabha election results are scheduled to be declared. The BJP’s appeal was dismissed by a division bench on May 22.

Patwalia complained that the BJP had not been given a fair hearing by the single-judge bench before the order was passed. He added the high court issued an ex-parte mandatory injunction at an interim stage without considering the BJP’s side although the Election Commission of India (ECI) was seized with TMC’s complaints on the same issue. Patwalia said that the ECI issued a show-cause notice to the BJP on May 18, seeking a response by May 21.

The bench pointed out that the high court order flagged inaction by the ECI despite repeated complaints by the TMC. “What has the Commission done till date? Has the Commission done something even after this order? We don’t see anything,” commented the bench, taking note that the TMC had filed written complaints about advertisements on May 4, 5, 10, and 12.

After the bench told Patwalia that the BJP must not precipitate the issue before the Supreme Court, the senior counsel chose to withdraw the petition with the liberty to follow the course prescribed by the division bench in its May 22 order. The division bench of the high court suggested that the BJP could seek a review, modification, or recall of the single judge’s order.

“We are not saying you cannot contest this order. We are saying you must not precipitate such issues before us,” the court observed.

Elections to 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal were staggered across all seven phases.

In its petition to the Supreme Court, the BJP argued the high court’s division bench should have considered that the party was not given a hearing and that an ex-parte mandatory injunction was issued at an interim stage by the single judge. “It is pertinent to highlight that such interim relief granted by the high court was beyond the prayer sought by the All India Trinamool Congress, which was limited only to the grant of an interim order directing the ECI to take steps in accordance with law.”

The plea asserted that the single judge erred by granting an interim injunction based on the alleged violation of the MCC, without considering that the matter was pending before the ECI, which has the constitutional authority under Article 324 and Article 329 to take appropriate action against any political party violating the MCC.

The BJP’s petition contended that the single judge, despite observing that the ECI is seized of the issue and a show-cause notice has been issued, proceeded to pass a blanket interim order, which is a final order. It rued that the restraining order significantly impacts its ability to campaign during the election.

In its May 20 order, the single-judge bench pulled up the ECI for its “gross failure” to address complaints pertaining to “derogatory” advertisements published by the BJP against the TMC, and restrained the opposition party from carrying out materials that are in violation of the MCC. The MCC prohibits political parties, leaders, and candidates from criticising their opponents on the basis of unverified allegations.

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