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|September 21, 1999||
Fernandes sticks to his allegations of excess ballot papers
Defence Minister and senior Samata Party leader George Fernandes today said that the Election Commission was free to take action against him if he was found guilty of creating obstacles in the election process in Bihar.
Maintaining his stand on his allegation regarding printing of excess ballot papers at Saraswati Printing Press in Calcutta, Fernandes told newspersons in New Delhi that law could take its own course if he had committed any crime.
Chief Election Commissioner M S Gill had yesterday accused Fernandes of creating obstacles in elections in Bihar.
Fernandes maintained that excess ballot papers were printed at Saraswati Press to ''manipulate'' the election results in Bihar. He further said he was ready to face any action if he had lied, and would also file an affidavit in the court, if required.
Meanwhile, the Samata Party and its allies -- Janata Dal-United and the Bharatiya Janata Party -- today came out strongly in defence of its leader and accused the Election Commission of speaking the language of an ''opposition party.''
Samata Party spokesperson Jaya Jaitley said the EC should think if it was fair in pronouncing that Fernandes was a cantankerous man and was making allegations because he was losing elections even before the voting had commenced.
''I would have understood if the Congress had spoken in this language,'' she said.
The violence in the first phase of polling in Bihar was unprecedented and even the governor, who did not belong to any political party, had expressed his concern. The EC does not like anyone articulating their legitimate concerns about free and fair elections, she said.
The Samata Party, as a ''victim of official malpractice in Bihar elections'' was bringing to the notice of the EC, as a responsible party, whatever information it had received. But the commission has taken a hostile stance and shooed away the complainant attributing motives. ''Is catching a thief more important or should the messenger be shot?'' she asked.
The party, she said, stood by its complaint to the EC. She, however, declined to be drawn into the role of the Intelligence Bureau which Fernandes claimed had confirmed the allegation of printing excess ballot papers.
Asked about the denial by the director of intelligence of having provided the report to Fernandes, Jaitley said she was not competent to talk on what transpired between the government and the IB. The report need not be 'official' but could be in the form of a conversation, she added.
In a separate press conference, JD-U general secretary Mohan Prakash said his party was only asking the EC to implement what it had done in the case of other states in the current elections.
There had been transfers of district magistrates and superintendents of police in other states whenever there were complaints. If it can be done in other states, it could be done in Bihar.
The BJP too condemned the charged levelled by the EC against Fernandes.
Party spokesman Venkaiah Naidu told newspersons that the party does not agree with the extreme stance taken by the party.
In reply to a question whether he approved of Fernandes' involving the Intelligence Bureau in the controversy, Naidu said that his party never commented on its allies.
The case is listed for hearing in the Patna High Court tomorrow and the truth will come out, he said.
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