Former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath has approached the Supreme Court challenging the Election Commission’s decision to remove him as a “star campaigner” ahead of the by-elections in the state next week.
The powerful election body had said the 73-year-old leader’s star campaigner status was being revoked for “repeated violation of model code of conduct” and for “complete disregard” of warnings to him. Kamal Nath, being a leader of a political party, had repeatedly “breached ethical and dignified behaviour”, the commission said in its order.
If the former chief minister does campaign, the cost of his travel, stay and everything else will be from the candidate’s limited poll expenses. A “star campaigner’s” expenses go to the party account and can be unlimited.
Challenging the order, Kamal Nath told the court, “It is right of the party to nominate a person as a star campaigner and the Election Commission cannot interfere with the party decision. The decision is a breach of the fundamental right of expression and movement.”
Kamal Nath also said he never received any notice before his privileges were revoked.
The former chief minister had earlier been warned by the Election Commission after he used the word “item” for a woman BJP candidate, a former Congress leader among the 22 MLAs whose exit led to the collapse of his government in March.
Campaigning in Dabra, he had mocked BJP’s Imarti Devi saying the Congress candidate was a “simple person” unlike his rival, who was an “item”.
In a notice, the poll panel had warned the senior Congress leader against the use of “such words or statements” when the model code of conduct was in place.
Brushing off the Election Commission’s censure, the nine-time Lok Sabha MP had said earlier on Saturday, “I was in Lok Sabha for so many years. There it is mentioned in the agenda sheet, item number 1, item number 2… That was on my mind. I did not say it to disrespect anyone. Yet, I had said that if someone feels insulted, then I express regret.”
The veteran was subsequently accused of making another provocative comment on October 13 when he said at a rally that Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is a “nautanki kalakar who should act in films in Mumbai”.
By-elections are being held on November 3 to fill 28 vacant seats in the Madhya Pradesh assembly. Most of these fell vacant when Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia revolted earlier this year and defected to the BJP, taking along 22 MLAs.
Kamal Nath’s Congress-led government fell and the BJP returned to power. The BJP needs to win at least eight of these seats to stay in power. If at all the Congress manages to win all 28, it can make a comeback attempt.
On the campaign trail, the Congress has been ranged against its own, with Kamal Nath lashing out at former party men who are now contesting as BJP candidates.