Orders criminal proceedings against them for hate speech

Taking serious exception to the failure of the U.P. government to file an FIR against Urban Development Minister Azam Khan for his communal utterances and to check inflammatory speeches by BJP leader Amit Shah, the Election Commission on Friday directed the Chief Secretary to initiate criminal proceedings against the two and ban public meetings where they are expected to be present.

This is the first time since the Lok Sabha election process began on March 5 that the EC has ordered such a crackdown on hate speeches. Under Article 324 of the Constitution, the EC has vast powers to take action to ensure a free and fair election.

At an election meeting last week in riot-hit Muzaffarnagar, Mr. Shah, a close aide of the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, said, “You have been treated as second-grade citizens. It is time for revenge now.”

He was shown on TV channels as also saying: “Batons, guns and swords belong to a bygone era. These days you take revenge by pressing the button.”

Earlier this week, Mr. Khan hit the headlines with his controversial statement that it was Muslim soldiers who had won the Kargil war for the country in 1999 and that no Hindu soldier had died.

The commission noted in its order that both Mr. Shah and Mr. Khan were yet to respond to show-cause notices.

Referring to their statements, the commission said, these “are, inter alia, promoting feelings of enmity, hatred and ill-will and creating disharmony between different religious communities on the ground of religion.” Further, these provocative statements are highly prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious communities and also likely to disturb the peace and public tranquillity.”

These statements and public utterances were made with the “deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings and religious beliefs of different classes of citizens of India.”

The EC maintained that their impugned speeches and public utterances were not only violative of the model code of conduct but also constituted serious offences under various provisions of the law.

Flaying the U.P. government for not having acted with the required alacrity, the EC said the State government machinery was soft-pedalling action.

The EC said all preventive measures should be taken against the two leaders, and asked the U.P. government to send a compliance report by 5 p.m. Saturday.

Azam targets Sanjay, Rajiv

PTI reports from Bijnor (U.P.): Unfazed by the EC’s action against him, Mr. Khan continued to make provocative remarks.

Addressing rallies in Bijnor on Friday, he said Sanjay Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were punished by Allah for “forcible” sterilisation during the Emergency and ‘shilanyas’ at the disputed site in Ayodhya.