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Above: Poll observer Mohammad Mohsin was shunted out by the EC from Odisha for ordering checks on PM Modi’s chopper/Photo: UNI

The Central Administrative Tribunal has stayed an EC order suspending an IAS officer on poll duty, stating that it does not have powers over officers once they are out of poll duty

By Stephen David in Bengaluru

The Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) in Bengaluru came to the rescue of poll officer Mohammad Mohsin when he was shunted out by the Election Commission (EC) from Odisha. He was charged with violating the EC’s norms because he ordered checks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s chopper.

Mohsin, a Karnataka IAS officer, maintains that he did not violate any EC instruction. The CAT has asked the EC to respond within four weeks to its April 26 order. The matter will come up for hearing on June 3.

The EC’s undue haste in punishing Mohsin and sending him back to his parent cadre in Karnataka was based on a report by the district electoral officer in Odisha’s Sambalpur district where Mohsin was posted as a general observer of the EC. It also directed the Karnataka government to conduct a departmental inquiry against him for “dereliction of duty”. However, the CAT’s interim order stayed these actions while allowing Mohsin to resume his assignment with the Backward Classes Welfare Department of Karnataka. Noting that under the constitutional process of the federal structure, even though the EC has supervisory powers over the employees under its control at that moment, the CAT said once they are out of it, the Commission’s powers would cease.

When Modi’s chopper landed on April 16 at Sambalpur, Mohsin visited the helipad and apparently instructed the videographer to take the advice of security officials, including the Special Protection Group (SPG), in order to shoot the PM’s chopper from a distance.

Mohsin, who goes by the handle mmiask on Twitter and has retweeted items critical of Modi/BJP, may have been ticked off for airing his views publicly via social media. The EC order suspending him from poll duties, signed by Rakesh Kumar, Secretary, ECI, New Delhi, said that “the general observer has not acted in conformity with the ECI’s instruction No 76/instructions 2019/EEPS/Vol-1 dated 2 March 2019 and instructions 464/INST/2014/EPS dated April 10, 2014, concerning SPG protectees”.

The letter was backed by reports from officials at the site and Mohsin has now sought copies of the reports to aid his legal fight against the EC.

Incidentally, in Karnataka, which witnessed Lok Sabha elections in two phases, poll observers routinely conducted checks on Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy’s vehicles. The chief minister took it sportingly. No poll official was in the dock because of these actions.

Expectedly, the Congress jumped at the EC action and tweeted: “An official was suspended by ECI for doing his job of inspecting vehicles. The rule cited governs the use of official vehicles for campaigning. It does not exempt PM’s vehicle from being searched. What is Modi carrying in the helicopter that he doesn’t want India to see?”

The party’s leaders claimed that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, both SPG protectees, were subject to poll observer checks in the 2014 and 2017 polls. They claimed that EC observers had scanned the choppers and aircraft used by the Gandhis on earlier occasions too.

Sonia Gandhi’s long-time aide and Gujarat Congress leader Ahmed Patel tweeted: “Why suspend an officer for checking PM’s chopper? What msg being sent? Law is special for some? The question is simple. If SPG protectees of the Congress can be subjected to inspection why is the same not applicable to the BJP?”

Karnataka state Congress unit president Dinesh Gundu Rao had tweeted a video clip of a black trunk being unloaded from the prime minister’s chopper and loaded into a van which sped away from the helipad while Modi was in Chitradurga in Karnataka.

While the Congress peddled all sorts of conspiratorial theories about the trunk, it was later found that it contained tele­prompters that Modi uses in election rallies. The CAT interim order had made a reference to this item.

In a public statement, former CEC SY Quraishi noted that suspending an IAS officer poll observer “for checking the helicopter in which Prime Minister Modi had travelled is not only unfortunate but a great missed opportunity to restore not only the image of the EC but also the PM himself. Both these institutions have been under the public scanner—PM for repeatedly violating the model code and EC for repeatedly overlooking it”.

Quraishi added that “the ‘raid’ on the PM’s chopper should have been used to demonstrate that law was equal for everybody. In one stroke, the intense criticism against them both would have come crumbling down. Unfortunately, they both chose a different course. The already ongoing criticism would now get magnified many times over.”

Meanwhile, in former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda’s home district, Hassan, the district election officer suspended three polling officers for “dereliction of duty”. Four other persons were also slapped with cases under different sections of the Representation of the People Act. All were allegedly linked to Kumaraswamy’s powerful brother and PWD minister HD Revanna, whose son, Prajwal, contested as the JD(S) Lok Sabha candidate in Hassan.

Mohsin may be at an advantage as the Congress-JD(S) coalition government under Kumaraswamy in Karnataka is known to go soft on minority communities, its traditional vote banks. However, he is determined to clear his name by waging an aggressive legal fight against the mandarins at Nirvachan Sadan in Delhi.

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