“Armed forces are apolitical and neutral stakeholder in the modern democracy. Defence Forces belong to everyone and are not an appendage of any political outfit.”

Madhya Pradesh High Court: The Division Bench of S.K. Seth, CJ. and Vijay Kumar Shukla, J. was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking quashing of conditions in the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), imposed by the Election Commission of India (ECI) on political parties, restricting them from using pictures of defence and military personnel in any advertisement, poster or any other campaign-related activities.

Petitioner, who claimed to be a member of the Aam Nagrik Mitra Foundation and Organization stated that he had filed the present PIL on his own, and not at the instance of any political outfit. His contention was that the ECI had no authority to impose restriction in the MCC on the political parties, while exercising its power of the superintendence and control of elections. It was averred that the condition contained in the MCC 2019 issued by the ECI for the recent Legislative Assembly Election and Lok Sabha Election 2019, was bad in law as “no harm is done if political parties during the political campaign, are allowed to discuss in the public, the military operation and act of soldiers.” Thus, the impugned condition was liable to be struck down as amounted to violation of freedom of speech and expression.

The Court in its order held that the ECI is a Constitutional Authority and Article 324 of the Constitution of India casts on it, a duty to ensure free and fair election to the legislative body at the Central and State level. Though the MCC has no statutory backing, it is a consensus-driven code arrived at, after consultation with all political parties to ensure free and fair elections, and to provide a level playing field for the candidates in the fray, which is the bedrock of democracy. It is a set of norms which has judicial recognition.

It was observed that army or defence personnel in service are not vote catching issues and therefore, it is vital to keep the army apolitical. “The Indian army is not a politicized force nor does it play any role in the politics and administration of the country. The democracy for all its wart 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.”

In view of the above, the petition was dismissed summarily for being devoid of any substance and merit.[Dr Mumtaj Ahmed Khan v. Election Commission of India, 2019 SCC OnLine MP 771, Order dated 01-05-2019]

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