Physical election rallies in Madhya Pradesh can be held for now, the Supreme Court said today, putting on hold the Madhya High Court's move to restrict physical political rallies in nine districts in the state in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ahead of the coming by-elections in 28 seats, the Gwalior Bench of the High Court last week asked that magistrates of the districts under its jurisdiction not give permission to any candidate or political party for public gatherings unless they can prove that virtual election campaign is not possible.
The top court today said it is the Election Commission which needs to look into these issues. "You take initiative, set right the situation. If there is any illegality going on, it's for you to ask the authority to take action. We will say whatever illegality has been flagged by the high court, you will take cognizance of that. You must take responsibility," a bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar said.
The Supreme Court also pulled up political parties for what it said was creating a situation that compelled the high court to intervene. "Had political parties maintained the protocol, this situation wouldn't have arisen," the top court said.
The Supreme Court was hearing the petitions of the Election Commission and Madhya Pradesh Energy Minister Pradyuman Singh Tomar.
The Election Commission had approached the Supreme Court against the Madhya Pradesh High Court order, citing that the order interferes with poll process and that holding elections is its domain. The order would derail the poll process, it said. The curbs will impact the level playing field for candidates, the election body had said.
Mr Tomar, who is contesting as a BJP candidate from Gwalior constituency for the bypoll, said that the high court has erred in its finding as the election body has issued its COVID-19 guidelines dated September 29, permitting "physical gatherings" for election campaigns subject to specified restrictions. Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, who represented him, said the Election Commission should consider the fact that he lost six days of campaigning and whether he should get more time to campaign. He said three hours a day should be added for the minister to campaign.
Twenty-eight seats of Madhya Pradesh will be up for by-election in next month. A chunk of these seats fell vacant as Jyotiraditya Scindia switched camp from the Congress to the BJP with his loyalists in March.