The Bharatiya Janata Party’s office in Varanasi was raided on Sunday, a day before the constituency goes to poll. The police seized some campaign material from the office.
Furious BJP workers protested at the police station against the Sub-Divisional Magistrate who ordered the raid. They claimed the state administration was biased against them.
The EC, however, closed the case within in a few hours
The search operation was carried out at BJP's Gulabbagh office.
District Magistrate Pranjal Yadav and Special Election Observer Pravin Kumar later told reporters that the Election Commission has decided to close the case as the material was not being used for campaigning.
These items were not being distributed among prospective voters, the officials said.
When asked whether such action would be taken against other parties also, Yadav said that the raid was conducted as per information received by a flying squad and action would be taken on all such information.
As per the Election Commission's guidelines, no campaign material including posters and hoardings should be seen in the area that goes to polls once the model code of conduct comes into effect.
A flying squad of the state police and EC swooped down on the party office amid a ban on all election campaign activities since Saturday evening, 5pm, for the polls, where BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is pitted against AAP's Arvind Kejriwal and Congress' Ajay Rai among others.
Officials said that the action was taken to seize election campaign material as it had got information about such items being sent in large quantity from the BJP office in the Sigra locality, despite a ban on poll campaign in place.
BJP leaders, however, claimed that these were unused campaign material and the party was not indulging in any campaign activities.
The seized items included T-shirts, pamphlets, badges, officials said, while adding that they found these products being transported from the BJP office.
The party leaders countered this with claims that the unused products were being returned to their respective manufacturers.
They alleged that the latest incident further proves the administration and election authorities' "partisan" approach against BJP and linked the raid to the local administration's denial of permission to Modi's rally on May 8.
Terming the action unwarranted BJP workers took to the streets and also staged a protest outside its Gulabbhag office. The BJP alleges that this is an action directed from bias.
“This material has been planted. Also if such material was found why should there be such a hue and cry. Was it being distributed or utilised,” BJP workers said.
They accused the Aam Aadmi Party activists of being behind it.
The flying squad of the Election Commission says that a prima facie case has been made out.
A member of the squad present outside the BJP's Varanasi office informed that material was indeed being distributed and several members were seen sporting caps and T-shirts bearing the party symbol.
The BJP says that it will continue protesting. The flying squad found the material opposite the BJP's office in an under construction building. Similar raids will be conducted in other offices if there is information, the EC official informed.
EC Officials said that the raid was conducted to seize election campaign material as it got the information about such items lying in large quantity in the BJP office.
In Delhi, an Election Commission order about the incident said, "On receipt of a complaint, a flying squad checked the vehicle at the office of the BJP in Varanasi.
"After obtaining a report from special observer and after finding that no irregularity has taken place, the Commission has directed the release of the material and drop further action."
Asked about the raid, BJP Spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi rejected the charges and sought CEC's intervention, alleging that the Uttar Pradesh authorities are continuing to work at the behest of the state government.
"I request the CEC to intervene and put the position in order," she said, adding, "We want action by the constitutional body".
"They need to act now and act firmly to establish their authority," Lekhi said.
She also questioned why only the BJP office was raided and not that of others as "the poll authorities could have recovered a lot more had they raided others also".
She said the raid was conducted a day before polls only to pressurise the BJP supporters and workers so that they are unable to come out during polling.
"The district authorities claim that they are working under the Election Commission, but it seems they are still working under the state government's authorities," she said.
With inputs from PTI
Image: BJP's Gulabbagh office in Varanasi which was raided
Photograph: Vicky Nanjappa/Rediff.com