Law

Madhya Pradesh Minister Disqualified for Paid News Cannot Vote for President

Narottam Mishra had challenged the Election Commission’s decision to disqualify him for three years on the charge of paid news.

Madhya Pradesh minister Narottam Mishra. Credit: PTI

Madhya Pradesh minister Narottam Mishra. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Forty-two items of paid news may have helped Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narottam Mishra get elected to the Madhya Pradesh assembly in 2008 and eventually become a minister in the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government but his failure to disclose the money spent on these items during that campaign means he stands disqualified as a legislator today and will not be able to vote in Monday’s presidential election.

Mishra had challenged the Election Commission’s June 24, 2017 decision to disqualify him for three years but in a special hearing on Sunday, a Delhi high court bench of justices S. Muralidhar and Pratibha M. Singh said there was no urgency for hearing his appeal challenging a single judge decision upholding his disqualification on the charges of paid news.

In fact, the opposition in Madhya Pradesh has questioned why the BJP continues to retain Mishra as a minister despite the EC finding him guilty of violating the Representation of the Peoples Act.

The impugned items – essentially paid political propaganda passed off as news – were published in prominent newspapers that circulated in his constituency, Datia, especially Dainik Bhaskar – the largest selling Hindi daily in the country – and Nai Dunia.

The single judge bench of the Delhi high court had earlier said that as per the provisions of the Representation of the People Act (RPA), the disqualification of a candidate has to be from the date of the order.

Former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, representing Mishra, argued that the charges pertain to the election held for the state assembly whose tenure ran from 2008 to 2013.

Challenging the Election Commission’s (EC) decision, he said Mishra has since been re-elected, and is currently  minister for water resources of the state.

Appearing for the complainants, two senior advocates Mukul Gupta and Vivek Tankha argued that the EC had taken a decision under the Representation of Peoples Act on June 23, and its order of disqualification will apply for three years from the date of order, reported Live Law.

“The EC holding that there was an implied authorisation by the petitioner (Mishra) to publish these news items was thus a fair finding,” the judge said in her 36-page verdict.

The court had further said that a candidate has to rebut the allegation that neither he nor his agent had incurred any such expenditure on paid news.

The matter reached the Delhi high court after the apex court on July 12, transferred the matter to it to be decided expeditiously before the July 17 presidential polls.

Pursuant to the apex court’s decision, the high court had, the same day, constituted a special single-judge bench which heard the matter on July 13 and reserved its verdict.

The EC’s order had held him guilty of filing wrong accounts of election expense relating to articles and advertorials in the media during the 2008 assembly polls.

The EC order had come on a complaint by Congress leader Rajendra Bharti, who had contested the polls against Mishra in the 2008 assembly elections.

While disqualifying Mishra from contesting elections for three years, the poll panel had used some strong words against paid news, calling it a “cancerous menace” that is assuming “alarming proportions” in the electoral landscape.

His election from Datia assembly constituency also stands void.

A full bench of the EC, comprising then the chief election commissioner (CEC) Nasim Zaidi and election commissioners A.K. Jyoti (now CEC) and O.P. Rawat, had in its June order indicted Mishra and unseated him under various sections of the RPA.

Mishra, who won from Datia assembly constituency, was the minister for water resources and public relations and the chief spokesperson of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government.

Bharti, the main complainant in the case, had first sent a complaint to the EC about eight years back in 2009.

The poll panel order had said that all the 42 news items that had appeared in five Hindi dailies were “extremely biased in favour of” Mishra.

It had said that its findings had also strengthened the conclusion that he had “knowingly participated or took advantage of the expenditure on such advertisements” that had appeared as news in the publication.

While a direct appeal, titled ‘Vinamra Agrah’ was published in Dainik Bhaskar on November 27, 2008, with a photograph of Mishra and Chouhan appearing along with BJP’s party symbol, a slogan written at its bottom read ‘Datia say uthi aawaz – abki Narottam phir Shivraj (the voice from Datia says Narottam this time, then Shivraj).

Similarly, another newspaper headline read ‘Narottam ki jeet say hoga Datiya ka vikas’ (With Narottam’s victory will come the progress of Datia).

The same day, Dainik Datia Prakash published an appeal to the electors, titled ‘Matdata bandhuon say namra nivedan’ (An honest appeal to the voters), along with Mishra’s photograph and party symbol which left nothing to imagination as to whom it intended to favour and why.

(with inputs from PTI)