A purported election “flying squad” in Tamil Nadu has pulled off something that matches the famed aerial prowess of the Rafale fighter.
The aptly labelled flying squad landed at a bookshop-cum-publishing house in Chennai, carried out reconnaissance, strafed the enemy’s supply lines by seizing 142 books and took off in a lightning operation. The raiders were ably assisted by ground forces in the form of local police.
The title of the book? Naatai Ulukkum Rafale Paera Oozhal (Rafale: The Scam That Shook the Nation), the release of which was a few hours away.
But the tactical strike became a strategic blunder when word spread and an uproar erupted. It did not help matters that Tamil Nadu is ruled by the AIADMK, an ally of the BJP that has been at the receiving end of the Rafale scam.
Running out of options, the flying squad did an aerobatic somersault and a police constable took the books back to the shop just before its scheduled release time at 6.30pm.
N. Ram, The Hindu publishing group chairman who released the book, told The Telegraph over phone: “The seizure was totally illegal. No one has read the book yet…. I appreciate the prompt response of the Election Commission as soon as it was reported. I got a call from the chief electoral officer in the evening, saying that he had not issued such instructions (to seize) and that the books would be returned.”
Ram added: “I have not seen anything like this (the raid) happen before. The booklet that cost just Rs 15 is now viral on WhatsApp, an unintended consequence.”
The electronic version of the book went viral, thanks to the surgical strike by the flying squad.
At 12.30pm on Tuesday, a team that introduced itself as an “election flying squad” had reached Bharathi Puthakalayam, a bookshop and publishing house linked to the CPM.
The squad arrived with personnel from Teynampet police station, less than an hour after the publishers announced the release of the book on the Rafale scam later in the day.
“For the past three to four days, we are playing a game of cat and mouse,” Bharathi editor P.K. Rajan told this newspaper. “Four venues we had booked for the release declined at the last moment. We finally decided to invite N. Ram to release the book within our bookshop itself at 6.30pm today.”
The book, by Chennai-based engineer S. Vijayan, is a summary of the reportage on Rafale in the public domain, including information revealed by Ram in his investigative reports.
“The officials said we cannot release the book without permission. ‘What permission?’ we asked, we have released hundreds of books even during elections since time immemorial. Then they said that we can’t even sell the books, and the constables scooped up all 142 copies in the shop. They left without giving us a seizure receipt,” Rajan added.
Soon, journalists began to address questions to the EC, which is yet to agree to the Opposition’s demand to defer the release of a biopic on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday.
Tamil Nadu’s chief electoral officer Satyabrata Sahoo then messaged a WhatsApp group for reporters: “Regarding the seizure of books, neither the ECI nor the CEO’s office had given any instructions. I have directed DEO (district electoral officer), Chennai, to look into and give his report immediately.”
Sahoo and DEO G. Prakash did not respond to calls from this paper. The EC is yet to reveal the findings of Prakash’s report or action, if any, on the official who led the flying squad.
An EC official said: “As such, the model code does not prohibit the release of books. If any material is found to be political in nature, then it may be investigated for surrogate advertising and whether any election expenditure is involved.”
On page 46, the author calls for the defeat of the AIADMK-led alliance, which includes the BJP, in Tamil Nadu.