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EC acted in haste on registration of FIR against Modi, says Jaitley

Author: Press Trust of India
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: May 1, 2014
URL: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/politics/ec-acted-in-haste-on-registration-of-fir-against-modi-says-jaitley/

A public meeting is a public meeting; the media byte is not a public meeting, said Jaitley.

BJP leader Arun Jaitley on Thursday questioned the Election Commission’s order for registration of an FIR against Narendra Modi and said it acted in “haste and anger” and the interpretation given by it may fall foul of Constitutional provisions.

Jaitley said the poll body has missed out the larger vision as the meaning of criminal law cannot be stretched out and definition of polling area be defined as Modi was not inside the polling station while giving a media byte after voting like other leaders elsewhere in the country.

“When Constitutional institutions react in haste and even anger, they miss out the larger vision. Criminal law provisions are to be strictly construed. Their meaning can’t be stretched out.

“A public meeting is a public meeting; the media byte is not a public meeting. If media is to be prosecuted for displaying comments of politicians on a voting day such a provision will fall foul of constitutional guarantee of free speech since it is not covered by the prescribed restrictions under Article 19 (2),” Jaitley said in an article on his blog.

Citing examples of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and other leaders who spoke to media after casting their vote, the BJP leader said, “I am only illustrating that an interpretation being given by the EC may fall foul.”

He said Article 324 of the Constitution is a reservoir of residuary jurisdiction and it cannot impact areas occupied by law. “It cannot dilute the import and content of the right to free speech,” he said.

On defining the polling area, Jaitley said if the whole country is a polling area as scattered and phased elections are on in several parts of India, the political rallies and their reportage by media when polling is going on in some other parts of the country, would attract penal consequences.

He said the EC’s order makes it appear that the entire country could be a polling area since the media comment could be seen in every part of the country.

Jaitley said every time senior politicians cast their vote, a large number of media persons assemble outside the polling station and they freely interact with media by making short comments and that is precisely what Modi did.

“He was not expected to be rude enough and give the media no comments,” he said.
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