The Supreme Court on Monday sought a response from the Uttar Pradesh government and Election Commission of India on a petition filed by Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan against his disqualification from the state Legislative Assembly within 24 hours of his conviction by an MP-MLA court in a 2019 hate speech case, PTI reported.

Khan’s Rampur Sadar Assembly seat was declared vacant on October 28, a day after the court sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment for making remarks about Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath and former Rampur district magistrate Aunjaneya Kumar Singh in 2019.

Opposition leaders alleged that the prompt action against Khan was discriminatory and reeked of vendetta politics as legislators facing much more serious charges continue to occupy public offices.

At Monday’s hearing, senior advocate P Chidambaram, representing Khan, told a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Hima Kohli that Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Vikram Saini from Khatauli in Muzzaffarnagar district had been convicted on October 11 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. But the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly Secretariat has not disqualified him yet, Chidambaram added.

“What was the tearing hurry to disqualify him [Khan]?” the bench asked Additional Advocate General Garima Prasad, appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government. “At least you should have given some breathing space to him.”

Prasad said that Khan’s disqualification was in accordance with a Supreme Court judgement, which held that legislators convicted for two years and more should be disqualified from office immediately.

“Urgency in the matter is that Election Commission of India is going to issue gazette notification announcing bye-poll for the Rampur Sadar seat on November 10,” Chidambaram said.

The judges questioned Prasad why no action has been taken in the case of the Khatauli Assembly seat after Saini’s conviction. They asked her to file a response and posted the matter for the next hearing on November 13.

Khan was convicted under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code, which prosecutes “promoting enmity between groups” and Section 505 (1), which deals with rumours or statements calculated to cause public alarm as well as the Representation of the People Act, which codifies the grounds for disqualification of legislators, among other matters.

Samajwadi Party spokesperson Udayveer Singh had described the quantum of punishment given to Khan as abnormal. In the past, politicians convicted of hate speech had been sentenced to six months or one year in jail, he pointed out, whereas Khan was given three years.

Khan is a 10-time MLA from Rampur Sadar. The BJP now considers itself “well positioned” to win the bye-polls that will now be held after his disqualification.

Also read: Why UP legislator Azam Khan’s disqualification is being seen as a symbolic victory for the BJP