The Election Commission of India (ECI) has moved the Supreme Court challenging the Madhya Pradesh High Court order calling for political parties to conduct virtual campaigning for elections.
ECI has stated that the High Court order interferes with the poll process, and that holding elections is the domain of the Commission. The Commission has also moved an application for urgent hearing of the case against Virtual Campaigning for Elections. The Election Commission has further stated that the High Court order would affect the poll process and the level playing field for candidates following Virtual Campaigning for Elections.
It is also submitted that guidelines for conducting polls during the COVID-19 pandemic are already in place.
The challenge comes a day after BJP leader Pradyumn Singh Tomar assailed the October 20 order of the Madhya Pradesh High Court restricting physical gatherings for campaigning and supporting Virtual Campaigning for Elections.
The High Court had passed orders in a PIL highlighting that various political parties were organizing physical campaigning, which was increasing the spread of COVID-19. It was contended in the plea 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 Virtual Campaigning for Elections and not by physical gathering. It further 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.
The High Court had further directed that the permission of the District Magistrate for physical election campaign shall take effect only if the Election Commission of India approves the same in writing.
As a condition for such gathering, political parties were required to deposit enough money with the District Magistrate to purchase masks and sanitizers for double the number of persons expected at the gathering.
The High Court had also directed the District Magistrates of Datia and Gwalior to ensure that FIRs are registered against former Chief Minister Kamal Nath and Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar for alleged violation of COVID-19 norms during election campaigns.
On October 8, 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.
Subsequently, the state government allowed public gatherings, subject to restrictions.