A few hours after an election flying squad in Chennai served a letter banning the release of a book on the Rafale fighter aircraft scam, the publishing house managed to launch the book by obtaining the nod from the Election Commission of India.
Sources in the Commission later said the members of the flying squad that conducted the raid have been relieved from duty and issued a show cause notice.
A new team has been constituted as part of the flying squad, they added.
The book Nattai Ulukkum Rafale Bera Oozhal (The Rafale scam that is rocking the country), by social activist S. Vijayan was brought out by Tamil publishing house Bharathi Puttakalayam. The price tag of the slender volume is ₹10.
On Tuesday morning, the election flying squad, led by S. Ganesh, assistant executive engineer, Thousand Lights constituency, reached the publishing house on Elango Street, along with the local police inspector and told publisher Nagarajan that the book release function and sale of the book could not be permitted under the model code of conduct.
He also served him a hand-written letter banning the book’s release and sale. In spite of opposition from the publisher and other staff, police personnel and other officials seized all copies of the book.
But later in the evening, following the intervention of the Election Commission, the book was released by N. Ram, Chairman, The Hindu Publishing Group.
Arbitrary, illegal: Ram
Speaking at the event, Mr. Ram said what had happened in the morning was totally arbitrary, illegal and anti-democratic. “The flying squad, the persons involved, first they called the people at the venue and had the meeting cancelled, frightened them. Secondly, they turned up and confiscated, from the showroom, 150 copies of the book. Fortunately, they were not destroyed and they were returned later. They were under the impression that the rules applicable to elections, particularly the Model Code of Conduct, gives them the licence to act in a partisan way,” he said.
“What is the Rafale deal all about? It has nothing to do with a communal issue. It has nothing to do with relation between communities. It has nothing to do with relations between castes or any section of the people or class war,” said Mr. Ram. “Under what provisions of the rules can they take action and threaten the publishers and organisers saying they would file a case if the book was launched,” he asked.
“This is completely unacceptable in a democracy. At the same time, in all fairness, I want to commend the Election Commission of India, its top leaders starting from the CEC and CEO for Tamil Nadu Satyabrata Sahoo. As soon as they heard about the issue, the CEO got directions from Delhi, and acted in time. We don’t have to thank them, because it is their duty. But we commend them when they act right,” he added.
Urging election officials not to allow such arbitrary, illegal and anti-democratic actions in the event of pressure from political elements, Mr. Ram said: “I would expect the Election Commission of India, learning from this experience, to take preventive action lest such things happen in other parts of the State or other parts of the country during this general election. This is my hope and I thank the media for taking this issue up seriously because you understood what is at stake, a small incident with huge implications.”
“I will speculate that there was some pressure from political elements. That was a mischief. The machinery failed,” he said.
By 7 p.m. in the evening, Mr. Ram launched the book and C.P. Krishnan, general secretary of the Bank Employees Federation of India, Tamil Nadu unit, received the first copy.
Chief Electoral Officer Satyabrata Sahoo told The reporter that neither he nor the District Electoral Officer, the Commissioner of the Chennai Corporation, had ordered the seizure of the books.
“I have directed the DEO, Chennai, to look into the issue and give his report immediately,” he said.
The copies of the book which were in the possession of the police, were also sent back to the publisher.
P.K. Rajan, editor of the publication, said, “The book is purely on the Rafale deal in Tamil so that people can understand it. This content of the book is what was published in The Hindu, and what is already in the public domain. It is ridiculous to seize the books on ground of violation of model code of conduct.”