A fact-finding inquiry into complaints that J&K BJP leaders handed money in envelopes to media persons in Leh to report in the party’s favour ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in Ladakh has found prima facie merit in the bribery allegations.
Leh District Election Officer and Deputy Commissioner Avny Lavasa, who ordered the inquiry, said: “On Tuesday, we approached the district court through police, seeking directions for registration of an FIR in the matter. However, the court has not issued any order in the matter so far.”
She said though the complaints filed an alleged violation of the Model Code of Conduct by BJP leaders, it amounted to a criminal offence.
Incidentally, Lavasa, a J&K cadre officer from the 2013 batch of the IAS, is the daughter of Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, a former IAS officer himself.
The Ladakh seat went to polls in the fifth phase Monday. Lavasa said after the allegations of bribing media persons were found prima facie correct, “we wrote to police to file either an FIR or a complaint”. The police, she said, filed a complaint and put it up before the court Tuesday.
“We are pleading for registration of an FIR in the matter,’’ Lavasa said. “There are now three complaints — one from us, and two others made by the Press Club Leh to me and SHO Leh,’’ she said, adding that police are now combining all complaints into one.
The Leh Press Club had lodged separate complaints with the District Election Officer and SHO, Leh, accusing senior BJP leaders including its J&K president Ravinder Raina and MLC Vikram Randhawa of bribing media persons at a press conference on May 2 to shift the poll narrative in their favour.
Raina denied the allegations. He said the envelopes, which party leaders including Randhawa had given to media persons at their May 2 press conference in Leh, contained invitation cards for a public rally to be addressed by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman after two days.
“We had printed nearly 2,000 cards to invite prominent people to her public rally and some of these were delivered to media persons also,’’ he said.
Maintaining he did not personally give any envelope to any media person, Raina threatened to file a defamation case against media persons who had named him in the complaint.
In video clips that began doing the rounds on social media, some BJP leaders can be seen distributing envelopes to four-five media persons, including two women journalists. A woman journalist is seen opening the envelope and, after looking in, rushes towards a BJP leader to return it. When the BJP leader refuses to take the envelope from her, she leaves it on a table.