Revisit restrictions, parties tell Election Commission

Political parties want relaxation of the Election Commission's curbs on traditional methods of canvassing as they feel excessive limits have resulted in parties finding a way out through “paid news.”

At a meeting called by the Commission here on Monday, ahead of the Bihar Assembly elections, representatives of the parties unanimously said the limits on processions, posters, wall writing and campaign on riskshaws fitted with loudspeakers drove parties to exploring new ways of quickly reaching the maximum number of voters. Paid news was one of the results.

While demanding that strict steps be taken to stop this latest assault on a free and fair election, the parties said the Commission should revisit the restrictions on traditional methods of electioneering.

Basudev Acharya (CPI(M)) said his party wanted “paid news” included in the list of corrupt practices under the Representation of the People Act so that anyone found guilty would face disqualification.

The CPI(M), however, sought protection for journalists who wrote under duress, and said the law should provide for punishment to the owners of media houses.

The BJP too was of the view that “paid news” was threatening to endanger free and fair polls and must be stopped. In fact, there was unanimity on this issue.

Points of divergence

On the use of electronic voting machines, the Congress said they proved more than satisfactory, while the CPI(M) and the BJP wanted the Commission to take up a pilot project with the EVMs leaving a sort of paper trail or some other indication that would acknowledge the vote cast by a person for one party or another.

The parties wanted the Commission to be more proactive in curbing money-power.

Some complained that although the EC had been informed of “cash envelopes” distributed during certain elections, no quick action was taken.

Criminalisation: no takers for EC suggestion

As for criminalisation of politics, it seems no national party is yet in the mood to agree with the Commission's suggestion that those against whom charges have been framed in court for a crime that would carry a sentence of five years or more should not be allowed to enter the poll arena. Parties expressed their apprehension that this provision would be used by their rivals to foist cases on prospective winners.

BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad later told journalists that his party had made a proposal that those who had two or more cases involving a heinous crime be debarred for, that would establish the person concerned as a “habitual offender.”

Asked whether the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 would fall in the category of heinous crimes, Mr. Prasad said: “It was not a mosque that was demolished but a disputed structure. Criminal proceedings are going on and the law will take its course. I have nothing more to add.”

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