The Election Commission has issued notice to Ashok Chavan for fudging poll expenses and asking him why he should not be disqualified (a pointless question, me thinks – what possible answer could be there?).
“The commission is of the considered view that respondent (Ashok Chavan) cannot validly claim ignorance about the publication of the above-mentioned 25 advertisements in which his name, the name of his constituency and also his photograph prominently appeared.”
If you remember, this was the case broken in The Hindu by Sainath and others in 2009 that put “paid news” on our attention maps (leading to further delicious scandals, but little action).
A quick reminder of the creative accounting involved:
Ashok Chavan (of Adarsh Scam fame) submitted election expenses to the Eletion Commission of India stated that he spent less than 7 lakh on his total election campaign, inluding Rs. 5,379 on newspaper advertisements (for 6 ads in one minor daily) and Rs.6,000 on cable television ads. Burst out laughing, didja? The Hindu stated that it had collected 47 full page color advertisements in newspapers (including at least one full front page and major dailies ) like Lokmat (which is among the 10 largest newspapers in India and top in Maharashtra -NRS 2006). Essentially, Chavan submitted acounts that would give him a full color page in a newspaper for less than Rs. 200.
It opened a whole new can of worms that culminated in the Supreme Court drawing the line and issuing a deadline in the peak of the Election frenzy.
P. Sainath and others in The Hindu had covered painstakingly over a series of 21 exposes dogging every development in the case and collecting full page after full page of color advertisements in investigations, with this notice to Ashok Chavan.
It is unclear what reply the Election Commission now expects, but no surprises are anticipated and we may finally see a precedent that sets they way for further action in controlling this open secret of media-political corruption.
Absurdly, Ashok Chavan seems to have lost his sanity, as he seems to see himself being found guilty a vindication of the Congress stand – whatever that means, since the Congress had actually tried to disempower the Election Commission to protect him – and failed. For what it is worth, this is what he reportedly said:
“Our stand on the paid news issue has been confirmed by the Election Commission. Even the High court and Supreme court had taken a similar stand when our opponents had filed a petition. The courts had rejected their petition. Now this (EC) order is also very clear. There is no question of paid news,”
Or perhaps he means that he has been found guilty of fudging his bills for paid advertisements and not news. One never knows what fig leaf a politician will grab.
This comes at a particularly sentimental moment, as P. Sainath, the senior journalist who broke the case ends his career at The Hindu with a sense of closure on one of the major long investigations he did there.
Disclosure: I manage P. Sainath’s blog with his writing in a technical and administrative capacity.