A “flying squad” of the Election Commission swooped down on a bookshop in Chennai on Tuesday and seized copies of a book on the Rafale allegations just before its launch. The officials said the book, “Rafale: The Scam That Shook the Nation”, was a violation of the code of conduct in place for the national election starting April 11.
Reports suggest around 150 books, written by engineer S Vijayan, were taken away by the “poll squad” from Bharathi Puthakalayam, a bookshop and publishing house linked to the CPM. An official on the “squad” referred to a letter on a plain paper with no official stamp directing the publishers to cancel the release of the book.
As the images went viral on social media the Tamil Nadu Chief Electoral Officer clarified saying “Regarding the seizure of books, neither the ECI nor the CEO’s office had given any instructions. I have directed DEO (district electoral officer), Chennai, to look into and give his report immediately.”
The books that were taken back by police hours before its scheduled launch, were returned and the book was launched in the evening.
Veteran journalist N Ram of The Hindu newspaper, who came out with a series of articles highlighting alleged irregularities in the deal for 36 Rafale jets signed by the Narendra Modi government with France in 2016, launched the book.
“This is outrageous. I have learnt that they have confiscated some 500 copies. It has gone viral on social media,” N Ram was quoted as telling news agency ANI on the attempts to stop the launch.
“I don’t know on what law the meeting was prohibited by the Chief Election Commissioner. Under what law have they confiscated the book? I think the institutions are being bent.”
Mr Ram said the publishers should go to the Madras High Court.
The publishers claim they had been denied the venues they had requested for the release, so they had announced the launch in their shop earlier on Tuesday. Within hours, the poll “squad” paid a visit.
The booklet, priced at Rs 15, compiles reports on the Rafale jet deal and allegations of corruption and crony capitalism, including investigative reports by Mr Ram.
The Congress and other opposition parties allege that Prime Minister Narendra Modi scrapped an earlier deal negotiated by the UPA government and signed a new, overpriced deal to help industrialist Anil Ambani’s inexperienced defence company snag an offset contract. The allegations have been denied by the BJP government, Anil Ambani and Rafale-maker Dassault. During his election campaign, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has repeatedly raised the Rafale allegations.
Tamil Nadu’s ruling AIADMK, which has a tie-up with the BJP for the national polls in the state on April 18, has not commented on the unexplained bookshop raid.
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