Madras HC says right to seek votes is a fundamental right

The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has held that the right to seek votes is a fundamental right while giving a ruling in a case in which a BJP candidate’s supporters were prevented from entering a village to campaign in the 2014 Parliamentary elections in Thanjavur.

Referring to a scene in the recent Tamil film “Maamannan”, in which popular comedian Vadivelu, who contests an MLA election, is prevented from entering a village for canvassing, the Madurai Bench while dealing with a case relating to violence that broke out when a BJP candidate was allegedly prevented from canvassing in Mallipattinam village in Thanjavur district during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, held the right to seek votes is a fundamental one.

Justice G R Swaminathan gave the ruling in his recent order, while dismissing a petition filed by Habeeb Mohamed, which sought compensation for the damage caused to his properties allegedly by the BJP candidate’s supporters Karuppu alias Muruganantham.

Narrating the role of Vadivelu in “Maamannan”, the judge said the eighth respondent Karuppu faced a similar situation in this case. He was campaigning for the BJP during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when on April 14, he along with his party cadres entered Mallipattinam village, a group of Muslims assembled at the outskirts of the village to prevent Karuppu from doing so, the judge added.

The judge said the petitioner’s contention was that Karuppu was a notorious character against whom several criminal cases were pending. On the said date, he entered the petitioner’s village along with his supporters, who raised slogans against Muslims and indulged in physical violence. They caused damage to mechanised boats belonging to the petitioner and others. Vehicles were set ablaze. He sent a representation, seeking compensation from the State for the damage suffered by the villagers.

Since his request was not considered, he filed the present petition, the judge added.

The judge said, “Right to vote may only be a statutory right. But, right to seek votes is a fundamental right. Because democracy is a basic feature of the Constitution. One can seek votes in a variety of ways. Parties and candidates hold rallies and meetings. If anyone causes disturbance, it is an electoral offence,” the judge added.

The judge said it was true on April 14, 2014, certain violent incidents took place. The question was whether compensation should be awarded for the damage suffered by the petitioner and others, the judge said.

Citing certain contents of the complaint lodged by Mohamed Azharuddin, the judge said this was clearly undemocratic. The de facto complainant and others ought not to have even attempted to prevent Karuppu and others from conducting their election campaign. Probably, it was this that triggered the entire occurrence.

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In any event it was not for this court to go into the factual aspects. The additional government pleader stated that the FIRs have been charge-sheeted and the cases were pending trial, the judge added.

The judge said the State can be directed to pay compensation under certain circumstances. 

That would require undertaking scrutiny of factual aspects. “Before me, there are allegations and counter-allegations. The jurisdictional criminal courts are seized of the matter. They are competent to award compensation. The petitioner can very well avail the said remedy,” the judge added and granted liberty to the petitioner to apply to the trial court seeking compensation at the conclusion of the trial.

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