Finding massive irregularity during "standard fraud checks", the White House has removed at least 85,000 signatures from an on-line petition which asked US President Barack Obama to cancel his planned meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi next month.
"On August 10, our standard fraud checks indicated a high number of anomalous signatures on this petition. After follow-up evaluation, a number of petition signatures were removed because they violated the We the People Terms of Participation," Caitlin Hayden, spokesperson of the National Security Council of White House said.
The New York-based Sikh for Justice had launched a "We the People" petition on the White House website last month urging Obama to cancel his meeting with Modi in September.
In less than 24 hours, the White House based on the results of its fraud check removed thousands of signatures as a result of which the number of signatures on the anti-Modi petition came down to a little over 1,300 on August 13.
A day later, the number of signatures on the petition was less than 14,500.
"Users following the Terms of Participation can still sign the petition, and if the petition garners 100,000 (non-fraudulent) signatures before the deadline, it will receive an official response," Hayden said.
To receive a response from the White House, the petition needs to be signed by more than 100,000 people by August 20.
"We regularly evaluate a variety of factors for indications of potential fraud, but to ensure we never remove valid signatures, we investigate thoroughly to identify the clear-cut cases of fraud, which takes time."
"We'll continue to evaluate signatures on all petitions for fraudulent activity," Hayden said, indicating that the White House detected massive fraud in signatures on the anti-Modi petition.
"The road to justice is not perpetrating fraud by 99 per cent and still expect to be treated as if 99.9999 pure gold. The fraud in the numbers claimed by SFJ's anti-Modi petition was caught and exposed by our White House is a compelling and lasting rebuke for those who wish to engage in public policy by committing a fraud upon the public and our government and still expect not to be laughed out of civil society," Attorney Ravi Batra said.
Batra, who has successfully defeated several lawsuits filed by Sikh for Justice including those against Congress president Sonia Gandhi, said: "SFJ's misbehavior and ill-advised lawsuits and actions dishonor India's proud heritage of a civilisation that granted full freedom to thought, learning, and religion while protecting minorities".
The Sikh for Justice strongly disputed the allegations of fraud being committed on its signature campaign and alleged that the White House decisions in this regard are arbitrary.
"There is huge difference between 'fraud' and 'anomaly' and that's why White House claims to have found 'anomaly' and not "fraud" in the signatures," SFJ's Gurpatwant Singh Pannun told PTI.
"White House claims to have run the standard check on August 10th and till 13th morning, they considered 100,069 signatures to be valid, in the afternoon White House finding was 1,300 and August 14 finding of White House consider 14,000 to be valid".
"This shows that White House's findings of anomaly are neither consistent nor final, at this point we consider White House evaluation of signatures seems to be arbitrary," he said.
"We have asked White House to provide us a detailed report of claimed anomaly and which terms of participation have been exactly violated by signatories who have been disqualified," he said.
"Having reached threshold signatures on August 13, Rights group consider the petition asking White House to cancel Modi's invitation, qualified for response. Any determination of anomaly claimed by White House will be challenged accordingly," Pannun said.
Anju Bhargava of the Hindu American Seva Communities (HASC) was among the first few who suspected irregular activities in the anti-Modi petition on the White House website.
"HASC came to know of the inaccuracies in the petition and growing concerns of the India American community regarding its divisive nature and its potential to negatively impact US-India relationships. Immediately we reached out to the White House and members of the administration," Bhargava said.
"We communicated these concerns of the Indian American community and pointed out the inaccuracies. We are pleased to see that the White House is monitoring the petition. We hope accuracy and facts will prevail such that the US-India relationship continues its upward trajectory," she said.
To ensure that no one misuses the on-line petition system and it genuinely reflects the views of its citizens, the White House has set of guidelines -- Terms of participation -- for its signatures.
"The White House may disable user accounts, remove associated signatures and remove petitions created or signed by users that it has reasonable belief do not satisfy the above rules".
"The White House may also block access from IP addresses that it has reasonable belief are using automated systems or bulk processes to create multiple user accounts or petition signatures," the White House says on its website.
According to the Terms of Participation, the signatories are required to use a valid email address when registering an account, or when signing a petition.
Only one account per individual is allowed. No one is allowed to sign the petition more than once and the signatory must be 13 years or older.