NEW DELHI: A day ahead of the Rajya Sabha polls scheduled for Saturday, the Election Commission decided against countermanding the polls in wake of sting operations showing MLAs accepting money was being offered to vote in Karnataka.
However, a taking a strict view of the allegations, the Election Commission asked the government to hand over the probe to the CBI, while FIR be registered against the MLA Mallikarjuna Khuba and others found involved ‘cash for vote’ allegations.
In an order issued on Thursday evening, EC said, “ the whole matter be entrusted to the Central Bureau of Investigation for such deeper probe so that all those who may be involved in such nefarious activities are exposed and duly punished under the Law.” The commission would write to Centre for the probe.
The Commission also directed, “the Returning Officer for the biennial election to Rajya Sabha by members of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly to file an FIR against Mallikarjuna Khuba, and others involved, under the provisions of section 171B of the Indian Penal Code and the relevant provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.”
As all eyes were on the EC to cancel or postpone the elections in Karnataka, where the fate of five candidates - Jairam Ramesh, Oscar Farnandes, K.C. Ramamurthy, all from Congress, B.M. Farook (JDS) and Nirmala Sitharaman (BJP) – was to be decided. There are four seats, for which five candidates have filed their nominations.
But what prompted EC to suggest action against independent MLA Khuba was his statement caught on camera saying, ‘If you want my vote, it will not be one or two crore. Give election money, it is settled. My offer is above 5 crore. For team it is same rate.’’ The EC recorded the transcript of MLAs in the order.
The EC added there was no sufficient evidence to check if money had exchanged so “going by the assertions of the said MLA that he can procure the votes of certain other MLAs also for a price, ....the Commission holds that an FIR be lodged against Mallikarjuna Khuba and others and the whole matter be entrusted to the Central Bureau of Investigation for such deeper probe.”
After studying the evidence and the content of the sting operation, the EC said, "... the Commission is not satisfied that the whole electoral process, now in progress, for the biennial election to the Rajya Sabha by the members of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly is so vitiated by the... allegations that it should not be permitted to continue.
"Therefore, the Commission has decided not to defer the Poll Scheduled to be held on June 11, nor to make any recommendation to the President for rescinding the electoral process for the biennial election under reference," the EC order said.
The Commission further said it cannot, under the existing law, disqualify a contesting candidate or prevent him from contesting the election, nor can it prevent an elector from casting his vote in an election, if otherwise qualified and eligible, as is being demanded by some of the parties.
The Commission said, "such punishment (of cancelling or postponing of polls) to the state legislative assembly and the people of Karnataka would not be commensurate with the demeaning act of few members of its legislative assembly."
Referring to the demands for postponement of the elections, as it happened during the Jharkhand Rajya Sabha in 2012, Commission said facts of that case were entirely different.
“In that case, the allegations of bribery of voters were corroborated by the seizure of Rs 2.15 crore in cash from the car belonging to one of the contesting candidates on the date of poll itself which was intended to be used for bribing of voters. "...in the present case, there is no evidence, nor even an allegation, that any money has in fact been paid or received to any elector as bribe for his vote," the poll body said explaining its decision.
The seven-page order came hours after Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi and Election Commissioner A K Joti met here for three hours to decide on the elections to be held on June 11.
While JD (S) had been demanding cancelling the polls, Congress and BJP were opposed to change in the poll schedule.