Even if such powers are to be given, or if the EC very clearly prescribes the fine for each violation in advance, the political system needs to debate this and clear it.
The Election Commission of India (ECI) ordering, as an interim measure, the BJP to remove junior finance minister Anurag Thakur and MP Parvesh Sahib Singh Verma from its list of star campaigners for the Delhi elections is, at best, a slap on the wrist for their speeches that were clearly aimed at polarising the electorate along religious lines. Removing the two from the list of star campaigners means the costs of their rallies will now be added to the election costs of the candidate; as star campaigners, their costs were added to the BJP’s election costs, and there was no cap on this.
Thakur has argued that all he did was to raise a slogan “Desh ke gaddaron ko…” and it was the rally-goers that responded by saying “…goli maaro saalon ko”; he later brazened it out by saying the crowd’s response indicated the mood of the nation. In the case of Verma, he sought to stoke hatred against the Shaheen Bagh protestors (overwhelmingly Muslim), saying, they would enter the homes of voters (by implication, Hindus) and rape and murder their “sisters and daughters”, and that the voters had “time today” and “(PM) Modiji and (Union home minister) Shah won’t come to save you (Hindus) tomorrow”.
Though the EC’s final decision on Thakur and Verma is yet to be made, there is a view it should recommend charging them under Section 153 (A) of the Indian Penal Code, which prescribes imprisonment of up to three years for anyone who promotes, or attempts to promote disharmony, enmity, ill-will, or hatred between communities “on grounds of religion, place of birth, residence… or any other ground whatsoever”.
Apart from the obvious question as to why the police shouldn’t charge the two politicians under this section on its own, giving the ECI such power creates two power centres, one of which is controlled by the very government against whom the ECI is acting. Even if such powers are to be given, or if the EC very clearly prescribes the fine for each violation in advance, the political system needs to debate this and clear it.
An EC censure worked very well in the past, when politics was more gentle; in today’s no-holds-barred approach, political parties need a lot stronger action to be kept in line. But, all parties must agree to give the EC that power; it cannot arrogate that to itself.