After a group of journalists in Jammu and Kashmir's Leh accused the BJP of slipping in Rs. 500 notes in envelopes in an attempt to "bribe reporters for favourable coverage" before the region voted in the national election, a video has emerged showing envelopes being distributed at a press conference held in the mountainous town last week.
Rinchen Angmo, one of the journalists, claimed that a senior BJP leader handed over envelopes to four journalists, including her, in front of the state BJP chief Ravinder Raina.
"When we asked what is in the envelope, they told us not to open it then and that it is a token of love. When I checked, I saw many Rs. 500 notes. I returned it to them. But they refused to take it back. So I kept it on the table," Ms Angmo said.
In the CCTV clip, BJP legislator Vikram Randhawa is seen handing out envelopes to journalists in the presence of the party's state unit chief Ravinder Raina. The video also shows Ms Angmo leaving her envelope on the table.
NDTV cannot verify the authenticity of the video.
On Friday, members of the Press Club in Leh had written to the local election officer, accusing Mr Raina of trying to bribe journalists at Hotel Singge Palace where he addressed a press conference the day before.
The BJP has denied the allegations. The party said the lawmaker was handing out invites to the journalists for Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's rally in the region. It said it will sue the journalists for defamation.
"We don't believe in bribing anybody. We hold journalists in high esteem. BJP has never done such a thing and we will never do it," a BJP leader said.
Election officials have initiated steps to file a First Information Report or FIR following the journalists' complaint. District election officer Avny Lavasa said a probe was conducted after which the complaint has been sent to the local court. Officials are waiting for court directions to file an FIR, she said. "It is a non-cognisable offence. The police has put up the case to the judicial magistrate for order. That's the law," Ms Lavasa told NDTV.
Jammu and Kashmir politicians Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah called for action after the video emerged.
"In light of the CCTV footage purported to show BJP leaders attempting to bribe journalists in Leh I'm retweeting my original tweet with the letter of complaint by the Press Club Leh. Action must follow," Omar Abdullah of the National Conference tweeted.
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti praised the journalists and the election officer in Leh.
If a Congress / TMC / BSP / SP leader was caught trying to pay off media with such solid evidence, media would've gone hammer & tongs about it. Why the radio silence & no hashtags? Glad to know that some have the guts to refuse. Proud of Avny Lavasa who put them in their place. https://t.co/856rcDM8dI— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) May 8, 2019
The Ladakh region, that voted on Monday in the fifth phase of the Lok Sabha election, witnessed a four-cornered contest between BJP's Tsering, Rigzin Saplbar of Congress, Sajjad Hussain backed by the National Conference and the PDP, and independent candidate Asgar Ali Karbalai.
The Muslim community enjoys a slender majority in Ladakh but both Congress and BJP fielded Buddhist candidates.
The BJP had won Ladakh in the 2014 election by defeating the Congress candidate by just 36 votes. The party, however, suffered a setback after lawmaker Thupstan Chhewang resigned from the BJP in November. Several other leaders from Ladakh also left the party.
Get the latest election news, live updates and election schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on ndtv.com/elections. Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and Instagram for updates from each of the 543 parliamentary seats for the 2019 Indian general elections. Election results will be out on May 23.