New Delhi: India’s armed forces are not an ‘appendage to any political outfit’ or ‘vote-catching issues’, said the Madhya Pradesh High Court, at a time when the Election Commission gave a clean chit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over his speech asking first-time voters to dedicate their votes to those who carried out the Balakot air strikes.
“Armed forces are apolitical and neutral stakeholder in the modern democracy. Defence Forces belong to everyone and are not appendage of any political outfit,” a division bench of the high court said.
“To ensure free and fair elections, it is important to remember that army or defence personnel in service are not the vote-catching issues. Therefore, it is vital to keep the army apolitical,” it added.
In March, the Election Commission had issued an advisory, asking political parties to ‘desist’ from using the armed forces for political propaganda.
“The restrictions imposed (by EC) are reasonable restrictions in larger interests of free and fair elections,” the court said.
The high court’s observation came on 1 May, the same day the EC gave the clean chit to Modi, saying he did not violate the model code of conduct during his election speech in Latur, Maharashtra, where he had urged first-time voters to dedicate their votes to those behind the Balakot air strikes and the soldiers killed in the Pulwama attack.
The high court’s observation is important in the light of the controversy over BJP leaders invariably invoking armed forces in their election speeches.
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The country, which is currently voting for the Lok Sabha elections, has three more phases to go before the results are announced on 23 May.
Plea filed by a professor
The high court’s observation came on a petition filed by Dr Mumtaj Ahmed Khan, an associate professor at a Jabalpur university. In his plea, Khan sought to strike down the EC’s order asking political parties from using photos of defence personnel during election campaigning.
Khan, who claimed to be a member of the Aam Nagrik Mitra Foundation, said the EC’s directive was bad in law and needed to be struck down. He said the EC did not have the authority to impose such restrictions since it violated one’s right to free speech.
The division bench comprising Chief Justice S.K. Sethand and Justice Vijay Kumar Shukla disagreed with Khan and observed: “No doubt that the Model Code of sConduct has no statutory backing, but it is a consensus driven code arrived at, after consultation with all political parties to ensure free and fair elections. It is a set of norms which has got the judicial recognition.”
‘Army had no role in politics’
The high court said: “The Indian army is not a politicised force nor does it play any role in the politics and administration of the country.”
“The democracy for all its warts and shortcomings is well-entrenched in India, and executive control over the Olive Greens is firmly established. It is a reasonable restriction and does not violate the right of freedom of speech and expression,” the five-page observation read.
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