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Senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde may have courted controversy by his comments that he spent Rs 8 crore in 2009 Lok Sabha elections but it may be a while before the Election Commission can actually get to disqualify him and debar him from contesting elections,that too provided it can prove his poll expense affidavit filed then acknowledging it to be within the prescribed Rs 25 lakh ceiling,was false.
The EC,nevertheless,on Friday began the process of initiating appropriate action with the full commission headed by Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath taking note of Mundes comments and to start with,decided to procure a CD of the Mundes speech and get it transcribed. Yes,the Commission did meet and began the process of ascertaining the veracity of the reports. After verifying facts,the EC will take suitable action as prescribed under the law, a senior EC functionary said.
At a book launch function in Mumbai on Thursday,Munde,who is an MP from Beed and the BJPs deputy leader in the Lok Sabha,had said he spent a whopping Rs 8 crore during the 2009 Lok Sabha election campaign. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and former BJP chief Nitin Gadkari were also present at the function where Munde bemoaned the increasing cost of poll expenses,pointing that he spent Rs 29,000 in his first election but had to shell out Rs 8 crore in the last election. Munde also openly dared the EC to take action against him. I hope no Election Commission official is present among the audience. Even if an Election Commission authority is present,six more months are to go for the Lok Sabha polls. Even if a case is filed,so be it, he reportedly said.
EC functionaries on Friday conceded that the process could take a while given that the poll panel would have to follow the legal procedure prescribed under law. This will include the time required to issue showcause notices to Munde,once the EC concludes that there has been a violation of Section 10A of the Representation of the People Act. The EC will then have to give him enough time to file a reply as well as respond with clarifications subsequently. Only once it is indeed proved beyond doubt that any person has crossed the Rs 25 lakh expenditure limit and won an election but has filed a false affidavit stating that he has not violated the ceiling,will he then attract provisions under corrupt practices. He can be debarred for three years from contesting elections, an official said.
More importantly though,the EC will also have to see which way the Supreme Court rules on the ambit of Section 10A of the RP Act in a paid news case relating to former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan,going on for the last three years. The union government has told the court in a counter-affidavit that the EC has no power to disqualify a candidate on grounds of corrrectness or otherwise of his or her election account.
The power to disqualify arises only in the event of failure to lodge an account of expenses,as stated under Section 10A of RP Act,it has said.
The EC,on its part,has opposed the government stand and contended that it is not in the mere business of record keeping of expenditure of a candidate fighting elections but also has powers to take action against those who submit false or wrong information in this regard to the commission.
The government,however,on Friday demanded that the EC should take cognisance of Mundes comments with Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari saying that if he has gone over the Rs 25 lakh limit and spent Rs 8 crore,then the EC should ask him.