The Congress in Karnataka on Thursday charged the Chief Minister with “corrupt electoral practice” vis-a-vis an “awareness programme,” a charge rejected outright by Basavaraj Bommai who said the opposition party was bankrupt with ideas.
The CM asserted he was ready to face an inquiry and also get investigated, Congress’ allegation that a private firm engaged in a voter survey in the city collected details, including on individuals’ caste and their Aadhaar.
As the issue erupted into a political row, the city’s civic body announced terminating the permission granted to the NGO involved in the programme and authorities said action will be taken against it if it was found to be involved in violations.
Congress national general secretary and Karnataka in-charge Randeep Surjewala demanded the resignation of Bommai, alleging he is directly responsible for the corrupt electoral practice by assigning a private entity, Chilume Educational and Rural Development Institute, to collect door-to-door voter information.
Dismissing Congress’ allegation, Bommai said it has got bankrupt ideas due to which it was making baseless charges without any proof.
He said he was ready to get the matter investigated.
“What I feel is that the Congress has got bankrupt ideas. It is a matter between the Election Commission of India, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), and the NGO,” Bommai said.
He added that if the NGO has misused its position, then it will be inquired and action will be taken.
“What is the proof that which private information has been given to whom. There is nothing on paper. It is a baseless allegation. I am really astonished the way Congress is bankrupt with ideas…there is no proof at all,” Bommai added.
He said he was ready for an inquiry.
“Let the inquiry be done and the truth come out. We are not shying away from any inquiry. I ask the BBMP commissioner to file a case,” the CM said.
Earlier in the day, Surjewala said the BBMP authorised a private firm in August to carry out a door-to-door survey of voters ‘free of cost’ and it gathered information about their gender, mother tongue, and collected voter ID and Aadhaar details.
“Chilume Educational and Rural Development Institute applied for permission to conduct a voter awareness drive of the Election Commission. Firstly, the permission was given for Mahadevapura Assembly constituency and it was then extended to all 28 assembly constituencies of Bengaluru vide a government order dated August 20, 2022,” the AICC general secretary claimed in a press conference.
Further, Chilume is connected with and owned by common owners and directors of two other entities, including Chilume Enterprises Private Limited, he said.
“Chilume Enterprises claims to be an ‘Election Management Company’ including working for ‘EVM preparation etc for political parties’. This is unique. I have never heard this before,” Surjewala said.
Alleging “the chief minister was the conduit of the electoral fraud,” he said, “there has to be an FIR against Basavaraj Bommai and he should be arrested.” The cache of data was not fed into the Garuda application of the government but into an application ‘Digital Sameeksha’ of the private firm, Surjewala charged.
The firm also appointed hundreds of Booth Level Officers (BLO), which technically should be government-appointed persons, said Surjewala, adding these BLOs were also given identity cards resembling those possessed by government employees.
The AICC general secretary also sought to know how a private entity was permitted to collect personal voter information like caste, religion, age, gender, mother tongue, marital status, Aadhaar number, phone number, address, voter ID number, and email address.
Can the personal data of voters be uploaded by a private entity on its private app, which supposedly is used by political parties, MPs, MLAs, councillors, and aspirants for political usage on payment, he wondered.
“The 40 per cent commission Sarkar (Cong barb against ruling BJP over corruption) has now corrupted the election process also. Shocking expose has revealed that those sitting in the citadels of power, including the chief minister are overtly and covertly responsible for theft of voter data, fraud and impersonation through brazen misdemeanors,” Surjewala alleged.
Former CM Siddaramaiah and state Congress chief D K Shivakumar lodged a complaint with Bengaluru police commissioner C Pratap Reddy over the matter.
Meanwhile, former chief minister and the JD(S) second-in-command HD Kumaraswamy said the BJP has done what the Congress did in the past and there was no difference in the conduct of the two political parties.
As the issue snowballed into a major controversy, the BBMP terminated its permission given to Chilume.
In a statement, the civic agency said in view of the Special Summary Revision–2023 activities, permission had been granted to Chilume Educational Cultural and Rural Development Trust for conducting the house-to-house visit to create awareness among the general public towards applying online applications via voter helpline mobile app pertaining to Voter ID, in co-ordination with BLOs, Electoral Registration Officers and Assistant Electoral Registration Officers of District Election Officer, Bengaluru.
“However, the above said trust has violated the conditions of the permission. Therefore, the permission has been withdrawn with immediate effect. Hence, we hereby appeal to the general public not to share their voter ID details with the representatives of the trust,” the statement read.
State Chief Electoral Officer Manoj Kumar Meena clarified that the BBMP chief commissioner, who is the district election officer, did not give permission to carry out any ‘analysis’.
The civic body cancelled the permission granted to Chilume to carry out an awareness drive soon after getting the complaint against it, Meena said adding that a plaint has been lodged against the NGO and action will be taken as per rules against the firm if any violations were found.
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