He has often described himself as an unofficial spokesperson of the Election Commission of India (ECI), but on Friday former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) SY Quraishi found himself at the receiving end of the poll panel's displeasure. In a five-page letter sent on Thursday, the ECI has accused him of "selective amnesia'' and also sent a list of the actions taken during his tenure as the head of the poll body. The letter, written by Deputy Election Commissioner Sandeep Saxena, also counters the retired bureaucrat's description of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) as `toothless'.
The genesis of this spat between Quraishi and his former office is an opinion piece that he wrote for a daily on February 8 -- the day Delhi went to polls.
In his article, Quraishi criticised the poll panel for stopping short of ordering First Information Reports (FIRs) against BJP MPs Pravesh Verma and Anurag Thakur for their hate speech. He wrote, "What is baffling, however, is that if the Commission had found them guilty of offences deserving punishment, why did it stop short of filing FIRs?''
In the letter, Saxena responds to Quraishi: "A list of MCC notices issued an action taken by Commission during the period when you were holding the office of CEC is enclosed,''adding, `"no action was taken by the then Commission during this period under Sections 123 and 125 of the Representation of People (RP) Act. It is rather ironic as how far selective amnesia (underlined) can mislead the readers!!''
These sections of the RP Act recommend imprisonment up to three years for hate speech. The letter also lists out the various cases and action that was recommended during Quraishi's tenure as the CEC from July 2010 to June 2012. According to the compilation provided by the ECi, there were nine show-cause notices that were issued during that period, out of which two were later closed, in two cases a warning was issued and in five cases, advisories were issued.
"No directions were issued to lodge FIR in any MCC violation cases by EC,'' said Saxena in his letter to Quraishi.
The violations include an October 2010 "derogatory"' speech by Sharad Yadav of the JD(U) against Rahul Gandhi. DMK leader Stalin's comments against the then AIADMK chief J Jayalalitha in 2011 and a former CPM MP Anil Basu's `"obscene remarks'' against Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee in April, 2011. In the last instance, the ECI conveyed warnings or their "displeasure".
When contacted, an ECI official said they were compiling these instances as part of a project which would have MCC violations for the past 20 years. They, however. said that "the letter was prompted by the need to clarify the factual position".
"Two dozen notices were issued during Delhi polls and unprecedented action of stripping star campaigner status was taken, along with a 96-hour gag order,'' he said, adding, " the FIR could have been lodged by the local police.''
Quraishi was unavailable for his comment.