The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong replies, poll panel silent

New Delhi, Nov. 20: The Election Commission does not appear too happy with the Congress’ response to the showcause notice it slapped on the party for violating its code of conduct.

On Tuesday, the panel asked the Congress why its recognition as a national party should not be suspended or withdrawn after it concluded that Sonia Gandhi and Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi had “violated” the model code of conduct by using state government aircraft during campaigning.

It said an aircraft and a helicopter owned by the Chhattisgarh government had been used by Sonia, Jogi and Madhya Pradesh Speaker Shrinivas Tiwari in violation of its specific directives. The panel noted that the Congress chief had used the helicopter on October 10 to travel to Sriperumbudur, where her husband Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated.

But officials on the panel, which met informally today after receiving the Congress reply, feel the party has merely responded to Sonia’s use of the helicopter and not answered charges concerning Jogi.

Publicly, the commission says it will issue an official response after “considering” the matter. “We have received a letter from the Congress general secretary. The matter is under the commission’s consideration. We will give it due thought before deciding our action,” said panel official A.. Jha. He said the commission had seven days to reply.

Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma said the party leadership has asked Jogi to send the panel a detailed explanation and inform the high command about it.

Evidently, the Congress leadership is not ready to fight Jogi’s battles with the commission — the panel censured the chief minister recently for misusing government machinery and ordered him to transfer two district collectors for violating the code of conduct.

The Congress, which has decided to restrict itself only to the Sonia charge, said the party chief had used the helicopter to fly from Chennai to Sriperumbudur to attend a memorial function for Rajiv.

“She went there not only as a Congress president but also as Rajiv Gandhi’s widow and the function was a government function — not an election meeting,” the Congress said. It pointed out that it is the Special Protection Group which decides on Sonia’s mode of transport due to security considerations.

Commission officials are unlikely to press matters unduly. The notice to the Congress appears intended more as a “moral stricture” for all parties that violate the model code than as a threat of de-recognition. De-recognising a party on election-eve can only complicate matters for everyone.

Senior panel officials say Jogi has finally obeyed its directives on transfer of officials after dragging his feet. Without saying if the chief minister’s response has satisfied the commission, officials said: “That story is dead. As of now, there is no new story.”

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