‘Paid news’ notice to Ashok Chavan

Print edition : August 08, 2014

Congress leader Ashok Chavan. Photo: VIVEK BENDRE

ASHOK CHAVAN is no stranger to controversy. If the Adarsh Housing Society scam cost him his chief ministership in November 2010, now it is the “paid news” scam. On July 13, the Election Commission (E.C.) ruled that Chavan had “failed to lodge his account of election expenses in the manner required by the [Representation of the People] Act and rules”. The E.C. issued him a show-cause notice asking him why he should not be disqualified.

The case relates to the “paid news” allegation made against Ashok Chavan during the 2009 Assembly elections in the State. The allegation was that articles that praised Chavan and his achievements and which were actually advertisements were published in several newspapers.

The complainants are Dr Madhavrao Kinhalkar and others. Kinhalkar is a former Congressman who won two consecutive Assembly elections from Bhokar (Chavan’s former Assembly constituency). He later defected to the Nationalist Congress Party, but in 2009 he contested the Assembly elections as an independent and lost heavily to Ashok Chavan.

He had also petitioned the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court against Chavan’s victory alleging that he had tampered with the voting machines.

In his complaint to the E.C., Kinhalkar said the articles in the newspapers eulogised Chavan and hence should constitute “paid news published for consideration in kind or cash for promoting or procuring the election of the respondent [Chavan]”.

The complaint also added that Chavan failed to show the money spent on these news items in the statement of his election expenses that were submitted to the district election officer.

Chavan denied that the articles were “paid news” and claimed instead that “all the news items, supplements, advertisements, etc., in question in the present proceedings, were published by the newspapers gratuitously on their own because of their inclination, leaning and close association... with the Indian National Congress”. He further said the articles were essentially highlighting the achievements of the government of the day and that none of them “made any appeal or solicitation for votes”. The Election Commission directed Chavan to submit his representation within 20 days.

The implications of the outcome could well prove to be negative for Chavan, who was recently elected from Nanded in the Lok Sabha elections.

If he fails to offer a “good reason or justification for the failure” [to file an account of election expenses in the stated manner] he could be “disqualified for a period of three years from the date of the order”. Under Section 10 of the Representation of the People Act, a disqualification could affect his Lok Sabha membership.

A disqualification under the Act means the candidate cannot even contest further elections for a period of three years.

The order was given by a full bench of the Election Commission comprising Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath and Election Commissioners H.S. Brahma and S.N.A. Zaidi. Their order makes it seem that they are confident of a watertight case.

Lyla Bavadam

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