Minutes before the Election Commission (EC) announced the poll schedule for Karnataka on Tuesday morning, the BJP’s IT cell head, Amit Malviya, tweeted the poll date — May 12. Terming it as a “serious” issue, the poll panel said a committee of senior officers would “probe the matter of alleged date leak”. “Karnataka will vote on 12 May 2018, counting on 18 May 2018,” Malviya said in a tweet which was later deleted. While he got the poll date right, the EC announced May 15 as the date of counting.
Malviya’s tweet was pointed out to the poll panel while Chief Election Commissioner O P Rawat was briefing the media on poll preparedness in Karnataka. About 20 minutes into the briefing, even as Rawat was yet to announce the poll schedule, mediapersons interrupted his statement with questions on how the poll date was already up on social media.
“People have conjectures. Certain things may have leaked for which the EC will take appropriate action,” said Rawat. A few minutes later, he went on to announce the schedule. “It would be single-phase election. When the Commission visited Karnataka, almost all parties were of the view that it should be in a single phase. The date of issue of notification is April 17, the last date of nomination is April 24, the date of scrutiny of nomination April 25 and last date for withdrawal of candidature is April 27, 2018. The date of poll is May 12 and the date of counting May 15 ,” he said.
In a letter to the EC sent later in the day, Malviya said his tweet, posted at 11.08 am, was based on a news flash on English TV channel Times Now at 11.06 am. Malviya attached screenshots of the channel’s announcement and a similar tweet, with the same dates, by head of the Congress’s Karnataka IT cell head, Srivatsa, at the same time. “It is my kind submission that my tweet was in no way intended to infringe upon the constitutional mandate of the Election Commission,” he said in his letter.
Senior BJP leaders Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Bhupender Yadav and Anil Baluni rushed to meet the poll panel to clear the “confusion”. “We clarified to the EC that its dignity, honour, independence and impartiality are important to us. It should not be attacked in any way. Regarding the tweet by our IT cell chief, we clarified that it was based on a TV channel. The intention was not to hurt the dignity of the EC in any way,” Naqvi told mediapersons after the meeting. Calling the BJP “Super Election Commission” for announcing the poll dates before the EC, the Congress demanded that a notice be sent to BJP president Amit Shah and an FIR lodged against Malviya for “leaking EC’s confidential information”.
Announcing a probe, the EC, in its statement, said: “Today, during the announcement of Karnataka Assembly elections 2018 by the Commission, it was brought to the notice of the Commission that minutes before the official announcement of the election schedule, Mr Amit Malviya, in a tweet, had already tweeted the date of poll as 12th May and date of counting as 18th May.” It pointed out that in another tweet, Malviya referred to Times Now as his source, and the actual counting date is May 15.
Earlier in the day, EC sources said that at a meeting held immediately after the press briefing in the morning, it was decided that the matter should be referred to the IB and, if needed, the CBI. While concurring that “90 per cent of the leak happens from within”, EC sources said, “a probe through the IB or CBI is important to send out a message to the press.” “It could have been at the cyclostyling stage. But the EC had taken all necessary precautions. Until last evening, the dates were not publicised within the EC. It was done only this morning,” said the source.
However in its statement in the evening, the EC said the committee would have to submit its report within seven days and suggest steps to prevent “any such eventuality in future”. It said the committee had already sought information from the concerned media organisations and individuals. Meanwhile, responding to questions on whether the EC would go ahead with its collaboration with Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica row, Rawat said Facebook would continue to be the social media partner. “Due to any aberration, we don’t stop the use of modern technology. Many times there have been bank frauds, net-banking doesn’t stop. Social media is now a reality and lot of people are getting information from it. All precautions will be taken by us to prevent any adverse use,” he said.