The Election Commission on Sunday instructed investigation and enforcement agencies under the Union Finance Ministry to ensure that their pre-poll raids remain politically neutral, and mandated that its officials be informed in advance before any such exercise is undertaken.
"The Election Commission strongly advises that all enforcement actions during the election period, even when conducted ruthlessly with a view to curb the blatant electoral malpractice (of using money power to influence voter behaviour), be absolutely neutral, impartial and non-discriminatory. Further, in case of suspected use of such illicit money for electoral purposes, the Chief Electoral Officer should be kept suitably informed while the Model Code of Conduct is in force," a letter issued by the poll panel to the investigation agencies read. It specifically mentioned probe agencies coming under the administrative control of the Union Finance Ministry's Department of Revenue.
The action comes in the wake of several opposition parties, including the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Congress, accusing the Narendra Modi government of using constitutional bodies to target them ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
A team of more than 15 income tax officials had raided the homes of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath's former private secretary Praveen Kakkar in Indore and former advisor Rajendra Kumar Miglani in Delhi this morning. Sources said Rs 9 crore was recovered from their residences.
"Prashant Kumar Mishra, the nodal officer of the Income Tax Department, informed the Madhya Pradesh Chief Electoral Officer about the raids at Indore and Bhopal around 8 am. The Election Commission of India had no role to play in these operations. We are waiting for an update from the Income Tax department," a senior poll body official said soon after the raids were conducted.
On March 28, officials from the same department had targeted businessmen, mining barons and people connected to the Kannada film industry in Karnataka despite a warning from Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy the previous night. His father, Janata Dal (Secular) chief HD Deve Gowda, later alleged in an interview with NDTV that PM Modi was exploiting constitutional bodies to weaken political opponents ahead of the polls.
Two days later, they landed at the home of senior DMK leader Duraimurugan in Tamil Nadu's Vellore. Mr Duraimurugan alleged that the raids were "conspiracy" by certain political leaders who are afraid to face them in the electoral arena. Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's husband, Robert Vadra, is also facing a probe by the Enforcement Directorate in an alleged money-laundering case pertaining to the purchase of a high-value property in London.
Opposition leaders have often questioned why the probe agencies seldom target leaders belonging to the ruling National Democratic Alliance.
The Lok Sabha will be conducted in seven phases between April 11 and May 19.
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