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Clean Chit to PMO, Niti Aayog To Be Reviewed Following Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa’s Objection

“Mrs (Indira) Gandhi got disqualified for much less,” SC advocate Indira Jaising reportedly commented.

Following an objection raised by election commissioner Ashok Lavasa, the top election commission (EC) panel has decided to revisit its previous clean-chit to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and Niti Aayog for a complaint about the violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).

Ritika Chopra writing for The Indian Express (IE) reported that is the first instance when the EC panel has decided to revisit a matter that it had already disposed of. The clean chit was apparently granted even before the NITI Aayog could furnish all the facts required to reach the verdict.

The case originated when it was alleged that the PMO used the NITI Aayog office to ask states and union territories (UTs) inputs and knowledge on the local areas that were visited by the PM for political campaigning days before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The MCC states that “ministers shall not combine their official visit with electioneering work and shall not also make use of official machinery or personnel during the electioneering work”.

Earlier, the poll panel on Sunday, May 12, had dismissed the complaint lodged by the Congress and AAP. The complaint alleged, that as per a Scroll report, an email was sent by a NITI Aayog to administrative officials in all Union territories on April 8 and other states as well, asking for a write-up for the PMO on the “highlights and important features of UTs – Historical, local heroes, Culture, Religious, Economic (including details like major crops, industry etc.)” The explanation cited for such a request was that the “Hon’ble Prime Minister is likely to visit the UTs very shortly”.

Also Read: Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa Opts Out Of Meetings, Says Minority Decisions Not Being Recorded

The poll panel’s initial verdict was explained by Deputy Election Commissioner Sandeep Saxena as “prime minister has got additional relaxation which was issued in 2014 wherein it was permitted that whenever the prime minister makes a visit… that the official or the personal visit (which includes) electioneering visit can be combined.”

However this verdict reportedly came under the scanner as the clean chit was granted despite election commissioner Ashok Lavasa’s request for further clarification from NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant.

Lavasa reportedly wanted to know whether the government think tank had indeed asked for the information from the collectors of Gondia, Wardha and Latur and if the information was actually used for the PM’s visit.

However, as per the report, the complaint was hurriedly swept aside as Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra opined that the 2014 exemption for the PM made the allegation baseless.

The IE report added that Lavasa then had questioned how the matter was dealt without the complete facts were presented before the panel.

Only after this objection by the third election commissioner the EC wrote a second letter to Kant on Thursday May 16, asking for further clarification, but Kant has not been given any deadline.

Modi’s infraction similar to Indira Gandhi’s in 1971

If the allegations are proven to be genuine, it could mean Modi has violated not just the model code of conduct (MCC) but also the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

Also Read: Ominous For Indian Democracy: Politicians, Civil Society Members Express Concern Over EC Rift

This could mean a repeat of events from June 1975, when former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s election was held invalid by the Allahabad High Court for appointing a government official as her campaign organiser. Local officials as well as the police were used for her political meetings.

Supreme Court advocate Indira Jaising told The Wire. “It has been on my mind for long, that Mrs Gandhi got disqualified for much less. Today an entire civil service, which is a non-political service is working in aid of elections for ruling party candidates.”

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