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Lalu violated code: Election Commission

By J. Venkatesan

NEW DELHI, JAN. 17. The Election Commission today held that the Railways Minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) president, Lalu Prasad, had violated the model code of conduct by distributing money to electors in Patna on the eve of elections in Bihar. "The Commission severely condemns this serious violation of the code by Mr. Lalu," it said.

The full Commission, after considering Mr. Prasad's reply to the showcause notice, held that in the matter of violation of the code, "it is not the strict rules of evidence that apply. What matters is the general perception in the minds of the public, particularly the electorate, political parties and rival candidates as to how they view the acts of commission and omission of other political parties, their leaders and their workers and supporters."

Taking a serious view of Mr. Prasad giving money to some persons from the Dalit community in Patna on December 18, 2004, the Commission had lodged a First Information Report against him for an offence under Section 171-b of the Indian Penal Code, relating to bribery in the conduct of elections. Notice was also issued to show cause why action should not be initiated for derecognition of the party under the provisions of the Election Symbols Order, 1968.

In its order, the Commission said: "It is an undeniable fact that the whole nation's conscience felt disturbed on seeing, in the print and electronic media, Mr. Lalu Prasad openly holding a wad of currency notes in his hand and distributing them to several ladies, which he himself admits. Thus there can be no two opinions that Mr. Lalu did violate the code by distributing money to electors on the eve of elections."

The Commission said that normally a serious violation should invite exemplary punishment to the party. But it had taken note of Mr. Prasad's assurances to strictly abide by the provisions of the code in future. In view of this, the Commission "would like to take a lenient view" and would not pursue the matter further.

"Nevertheless, the Commission severely reprimands Mr. Lalu Prasad for his violation of the code," the order said.

The Commission cautioned the RJD and all its leaders, workers and supporters that "this is the last opportunity" to them to honour the code and abide by it, both in letter and in spirit.

It warned that it would not hesitate to take exemplary action against the party in case of further violations of the code or lawful directions of the Commission given from time to time for ensuring free and fair elections.

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