Bommai orders probe as Cong accuses Karnataka BJP govt of collecting voters’ data
Karnataka Congress has accused Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and state Higher Education Minister Dr CN Ashwath Narayan of being responsible for the collection of voters’ information and their political preferences through a private entity.
Randeep Singh Surjewala, in charge of Karnataka Congress, Opposition leader Siddaramaiah, and KPCC president DK Shivakumar made the allegations in a joint press conference on Thursday.
The Brihat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) commissioner authorised a private firm to carry out a door-to-door survey of voters in August. It allegedly gathered voters’ information, including gender, mother tongue, caste, Voter ID number, Aadhaar details, etc. The surveyors allegedly also asked which political party the respondents liked.
The Congress has alleged that BJP assigned party workers through the private entity to collect such information. Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar have demanded that an FIR be filed against the CM and others and they be arrested. They have also demanded an inquiry under the Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court.
Immediately after the Congress made the charges, Bommai said he would order a detailed probe into the incident and let the truth be revealed.
He claimed the Election Commission of India had authorised the BBMP and local organisations to undertake the Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation Programme (SVEEP) and that it was entrusted to a non-governmental organisation (NGO). It was done in 2018, too.
The CM dubbed as “ridiculous” the Congress’s demand for his resignation. “If this is the yardstick, then the Congress chief ministers should have resigned thrice by now. This allegation is baseless and far from the truth,” he said.
Ashwath Narayan said he would file a defamation suit against DK Shivakumar for making baseless allegations.
“They are making allegations by linking an organisation called Hombale. The Hombale (Chilume Trust) is another organisation. My brother also has a cinema production company called Hombale. This institute has produced movies that have brought name and fame to the state and the nation. The Hombale they are mentioning is a different firm, and my brother has no connection with it,” he claimed.
The Congress leaders showed a photograph in which a member of the Chilume organisation and Ashwath Narayan can be seen together at a birthday party. “I am a public figure and I could have taken a photo with him, as thousands of people come to my office,” Ashwath Narayan said.
Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar have lodged separate complaints with the DG and IGP, the Police Commissioner, and the Chief Electoral Officer.
In the complaints, they have reportedly named Bommai, Ashwath Narayan, BBMP Chief Commissioner Tushar Girinath, the Bangalore district election officer, Chilume Enterprises director Krishnappa Ravikumar, members of Chilume Educational, Cultural, & Rural Development Institute, DAP Hombale Pvt Ltd, and SAMEEKSHA App. The Congress has claimed that Krishnappa is a close aide of a senior minister.
According to the complaint, Tushar Girinath, acting on the CM’s instructions, permitted the agency called Chilume Educational, Cultural & Rural Development Institute to carry out functions that are part of the election administration. The agency is allegedly neither a registered body nor recognized under any statute or rule.
In the process, private persons working with the said institute were appointed as Booth-Level Officers (BLOs) and issued identity cards. They allegedly posed as BLOs and approached thousands of Bengaluru citizens, collected personal data, made additions to the voters’ list, and deleted names. They allegedly deleted the names of legitimate voters of the opposition party and added the names of “fake voters” to ensure more votes for the BJP.
The organisations allegedly involved in this were Chelume Private Limited, DAP Hombale Private Limited, and others that had been subcontracted. These are all private limited companies with a common registered address in Ashwath Narayan’s Malleshwaram constituency. Together, they created a shell organisation named Chilume Educational, Cultural & Rural Development Institute.
The companies allegedly claimed to specialize in EVMs, CCTV installation, webcasting, and checking poll preparation for political parties. They also operate a voter survey app called Digital SAMEEKSHA, on which the data “stolen” from the people of Bengaluru has been uploaded. The app is also registered at the same address in Malleshwaram.
The Congress has alleged that Bommai, who also holds the BBMP portfolio, Ashwath Narayan, and Tushar Girinath hatched a criminal conspiracy to manipulate the voters’ list. They also allegedly stole private information and digital data of citizens of Bangalore city to use these to affect and alter elections results.
The Congress’s allegations pertain to identity theft (punishable under Section 66C) and disclosure of information (Section 72A of Information Technology Act, 2000), criminal conspiracy (Section 120B IPC), theft (Section 379 IPC), dishonest misappropriation of property (Section 403 IPC), criminal breach of trust by a public servant or agent (Section 409 IPC), assisting in the concealment of stolen property (Section 414 IPC).