Following a massive controversy over the Election Commission’s (EC) action against Congress president Rahul Gandhi over a TV interview, the poll body on Sunday sought to set up a committee to recommend modifications in Section 126 of the Representation of People Act (RPA), 1951. The section prohibits public meetings and campaigning 48 hours prior to the commencement of voting.In separate orders, the Commission withdrew its showcause notice against Rahul but rejected the Congress complaint against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP.A controversy had broken out last week, when the EC issued a showcause notice to Rahul, after TV channels in Gujarat aired his interview a day ahead of polling. The EC called it violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). An angry Congress then charged the Commission for not acting against PM Modi, who had allegedly conducted a roadshow with BJP flags in Ahmedabad on the polling day.The Congress lambasted the EC as a “kathputli (puppet)” and “bandhak (hostage)” of the ruling BJP and the PM’s office.In two subsequent orders, the Commission, while informing the Congress that it was withdrawing the showcase notice against Rahul and advised the BJP not to make any election matter pertaining toarea going to polls during the prohibited period of 48 hours, henceforth. The EC further stated that due to the expansion of digital and electronic media, the particular act and other provisions required revisiting the Act to cater to present challenges.On the Congress complaint against the BJP releasing its manifesto, the Commission said there was no time limit prescribed in the Act for releasing poll document and no instruction of the poll panel were required in this regard. But it advised both parties to not violate the MCC by engaging in any poll-related activity during the 48-hour period before polling.To address such controversies in the future, the EC directed the government to constitute a committee, with representation from the EC, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, and representatives of National Broadcasters Associations (NBA) and Press Council of India (PCI), to examine Section 126 in the prevailing context of communication technologies.The EC order further said the committee will also suggest required changes so that the matter can be taken up with all stakeholders, including political parties and media houses, for their views and to recommend appropriate modification in law.The section says no person shall convene, hold, attend, join, or address any public meeting or procession in connection with an election; or display to the public any election matter by means of cinematography, television, or other similar apparatus; or propagate any election matter to the public by holding, or by arranging the holding of, any musical concert or any theatrical performance or any other entertainment or amusement with a view to attract the members of the public.The provision says any such act will invite imprisonment for a term that may extend to two years or with fine, or with both.The Commission further said that “the increasing changes in the technology of communication makes it necessary that the administration and preferably the Law Commission should have another look at the Section and clarify its limits”.The EC order also mentioned past elections, such as in Bihar, where it received a flood of similar complaints. It opined that Section 126, at present, does not take into account such a communication revolution, whereas it appears imperative to revisit the provisions to appropriately address these challenges.
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