New Delhi, April 16: The Election Commission today slapped a bribery charge on Lalji Tandon, a proposer of the Prime Minister’s candidature in Lucknow, and showcaused the party’s central leadership on the sari stampede.
The stunning order a few days before the first round of polls handed an emotive weapon to the Opposition, which trained its guns on Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The Congress and the Left, smarting under an announcement earlier in the day that Ram Jethmalani is withdrawing from the contest against Vajpayee, questioned the validity of the Prime Minister’s candidature as Tandon had proposed it and demanded that the election in Lucknow be countermanded.
The commission said the order does not cover Vajpayee as he had not filed his nomination when the stampede occurred on Monday.
But the Opposition seized on the notice to the BJP leadership, saying the showcause has struck at the root of the party’s stand that it had nothing to do with Tandon’s birthday celebrations in which 25 women and a child were crushed to death.
The BJP said this evening that it respected the poll panel but insisted that the party did not organise the function.
“The party (the BJP) has seven days to send a reply. We will announce the punishment after going through the reply,” said deputy election commissioner A.. Jha. He did not spell out the punishment but if the poll panel is not satisfied with the reply, it could even threaten to derecognise the party.
The commission has asked the Uttar Pradesh government headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav to prosecute Tandon and the others who distributed the saris. “The charge is that of offering bribes during the process of elections,” Jha said.
The poll panel also ordered the transfer of the Lucknow district magistrate and the senior superintendent of police.
Jha stressed that distributing largesse of any kind during elections is a violation of the model code.
Tandon sounded unfazed. “If there is a case against me, I have to face it. I was not trying to bribe anybody,” he said.