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OUR BUREAU Published 28.07.99, 12:00 AM
New Delhi & Bombay, July 28 :     Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray was today debarred by the Election Commission from casting his vote and contesting polls for six years with effect from 1995. This step is being interpreted in political circles as a tough measure designed to prevent politicians from delivering inflammatory speeches at election rallies. Thackeray had flouted rules, making a ?communal as well as a jingoistic speech? at a rally at Ville Parle in Mumbai in 1987 while campaigning for an Assembly bypoll. He had been reprimanded by Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court for his indiscretion. Reacting to the news, the Sena chief said: ?Long live democracy.? That will be the headline in the morning edition of the Sena mouthpiece, Saamna, tomorrow. ?Is this what our democracy is?? Thackeray asked. ?It is for the President alone to decide how right or wrong it is to deny a citizen his right to vote. However, if there is a new thinking on enacting a new law on the question of adult franchise, your democracy will be grateful and so will the nation.? The Sena chief said the order would have no adverse impact on the Sena-BJP in the polls. ?People will vote with a vengeance and the Sena-BJP will win with a majority.? He said there was no question of challenging the decision of the commission and the President. ?With due respect to the law and the Constitution, I have only this to say: an election speech in the byelection of 1987 raised this controversy. I am amazed that it took 12 years for the matter to be settled. When was the case filed? When did litigation begin? Why did it take 12 years? If the decision was prompt, I would have completed my sentence by now,? he said. Thackeray said law minister Ram Jethmalani had brought these issues before the commission. ?But the Election Commission did not accept them. And it has pronounced its sentence. The fun is that I had taken a decision never to contest an election in my life. So what is the use of this punishment? I pity a democracy that took away my right to vote,? the Sena chief said. Sources said that while taking this decision, the commission had abided by a 1995 Supreme Court judgment by a three-member bench headed by then Chief Justice J.S. Verma. The judgment had confirmed the Bombay High Court decision that Thackeray had gone beyond permissible limits. It had imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 and ordered a suspended sentence. Thackeray was adjudged guilty of inciting malice among communities. But the panel had not acted of its own accord. President K.R. Narayanan had referred the Supreme Court verdict to the panel and asked the three election commissioners to decide on the nature and degree of Thackeray?s punishment. The commission had set up a bench of Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill and election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh to adjudicate on the matter. Though the announcement of the disenfranchisement was made today, it was included in the gazette notification of July 17. It has taken the judicial system, including the Supreme Court, more than a decade to reach its final verdict. Thackeray?s party comrade Yashwant Prabhu, who had participated in the same rally and had made a similar inflammatory speech, had been disenfranchised for six years. After losing in Bombay High Court in 1991, Thackeray had lodged a special leave petition with the Supreme Court. Jethmalani has written to the President, questioning the commission?s argument for taking this decision. The minister had represented the leader in the Supreme Court and told the President that the order was meaningless, especially as the penalty was being imposed for an act committed more than 10 years ago. Maharashtra chief electoral officer D.K. Shankaran said he saw a copy of the order on his table as soon as he arrived at his office in Mantralaya. ?The order was the President?s, but it was communicated to me through the Chief Election Commissioner?s office. We immediately struck out Bal Thackeray?s name from the voters? list of Bandra East.?    
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