The Election Commission (EC) has decided to revisit its clean chit to the NITI Aayog and Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) over an alleged violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), at Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa’s insistence.
Last week, the poll panel had disposed of a Congress complaint alleging misuse of the NITI Aayog by the PMO for gathering information on Gondia, Wardha and Latur ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election rallies there.
Speaking at a press conference on May 12, Deputy Election Commissioner Sandeep Saxena had informed journalists that the EC had found no merit in the complaint as the PM, by virtue of an instruction issued on October 7, 2014, is permitted to combine his official and electioneering visits.
The clean chit, The Sunday Express has learnt, was given despite Lavasa’s request on file for further clarification from NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant on whether the government think tank had indeed sought information from the collectors of Gondia, Wardha and Latur, and if the information was used for the PM’s visit. The complaint was dismissed as Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra felt the exemption granted to the PM on October 7, 2014, rendered the allegation infructuous.
Lavasa is learnt to have subsequently questioned how the matter was decided without obtaining complete facts. Following his objection to the process followed, the EC wrote a second letter to Kant on Thursday asking him to clarify whether the NITI Aayog had sought information from the collectors and if the information collected was used for the PM’s election-related visits. Kant hasn’t been given any deadline to respond by.
The Congress had filed its complaint to the EC on May 1. In it, the party had claimed that the NITI Aayog was used by the PMO to collect information in advance about places where Modi was scheduled to campaign. Quoting from a news report in scroll.in, the Congress complaint alleged that in March, the NITI Aayog wrote to collectors in Maharashtra seeking basic statistics and demographics of Gondia, Latur and Wardha. Similar information was sought from officers of all Union territories on local culture, history, heroes and the areas Modi was to visit.
This, the Congress said, was a violation of the EC’s instructions prohibiting misuse of government resources in election campaigning.
Following the complaint, the EC had sought Kant’s comments. Kant had denied any wrongdoing and is also said to have justified the data collection as a routine exercise since the think tank often profiles different districts.
Once his response was received, Lavasa is learnt to have been in favour of seeking further clarification while his colleagues were of the opinion that there was no MCC violation. But when Lavasa objected to the complaint’s disposal without obtaining full facts, the EC wrote a second letter to Kant this week.
While this wasn’t the first case where Lavasa was overruled by his colleagues, this definitely is the first instance when the incumbent Commission decided to revisit a matter already disposed of. The Indian Express had first reported on May 5 that Lavasa had differed with the majority view in five different MCC complaints against the PM and BJP president Amit Shah, of which four pertained to Modi.