The terms of reference for the committee constituted by the Election Commission of India to probe the leak of the Karnataka poll schedule exclude any mention of BJP IT cell chief Amit Malviya’s name, and instead require the panel to probe the media outlet responsible for flashing the news and Congress social media in-charge for Karnataka Srivatsa.
The ECI set up the panel on Tuesday to investigate the leak in the poll date prior to the official EC announcement. The ECI’s office order dated March 27 states that a six-member committee, under Senior Deputy Election Commissioner Umesh Sinha, will have to submit a report on the same within seven days.
The five terms of reference of the committee include inquiring from the media as well as Srivatsa about the source of their information on the poll date before its announcement. The panel is required to inquire from a Kannada channel (Suvarna News) about how it announced the dates beforehand. The panel also has to look into any official lapse and recommend steps to prevent similar incidents in future.
In its press statement released on Tuesday evening announcing the setting up of the inquiry committee, the ECI specifically mentioned that it was made aware of the date leak issue following Malviya’s tweet. The statement read: “Today during the announcement of Karnataka Assembly Election, 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 announced the date of poll as 12 th May, 2018 and date of Counting as 18 th May, 2018.” It also mentioned Malviya’s subsequent tweet where he refers to Times Now channel as the source of his information.
An EC spokesperson said that the statement issued earlier on Tuesday referred to only Malviya and Times Now “because those were the two names that came up before us at first. In the order issued at 5 pm, his name is not mentioned as by then he sent a letter to the EC with his explanation.” Malviya’s letter said that his source of information was Times Now and that Srivatsa also tweeted about the poll date at the same time as him. The EC official added, “This is not to state that we have given a clean chit to Malviya. If the committee requires, they might counter question him.”
The Congress slammed the omission, with its spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala tweeting: “Yesterday, Union Min, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi went to @ECI_India with BJP IT Head’s explanation. Surprising that @ECI_India exonerates BJP IT Head, who initiated ‘Date Leak’ & constitutes an inquiry thereafter.”
The committee released the responses it received from Srivatsa, Times Now and Suvarna News on Wednesday in addition to the response received from Malviya the day earlier. In a response similar to that of Malviya’s, Srivatsa has attributed the source of his tweet to Times Now and attached screenshots to show that his tweet came two minutes after the news flash on the channel.
The Kannada TV channel Suvarna news, which is part of Asianet New Network (in which a major stake is held by Rajeev Chandrashekhar who is returning to the Rajya Sabha as a BJP MP), in its reply said that it, being a regional channel, relies on national news channels for its news. Suvarna news Head of News Ajit S Hanamakkanavar has in its letter to the ECI said , “The News you are referring to was first broken by the national new channel Times Now.
After a few minutes we too took the same news…”. It goes on to state that another Kannada channel BTV too put up the news first and then Suvarna TV and Public Tv aired the same. Times Now, in its reply to the ECI signed by Editor-in-chief Rahul Shivshankar, has said that the channel received the details from ‘informed sources’. It has also maintained in the letter that ‘given that the information isn’t entirely accurate it is obvious that it wasn’t a leak’.