Srinagar: Two days after journalists in Jammu and Kashmir’s Ladakh division filed an official complaint against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders for allegedly offering them bribes during a press conference in Leh, the local administration is examining CCTV footage of the alleged incident to ascertain the truth.
Senior government officials said that the inquiry, initiated soon after the journalists filed the complaint on 3 May, is likely to conclude by Sunday evening.
The journalists had alleged that on 2 May, BJP leaders had offered them money in envelopes “to influence the outcome of the elections” .The incident took place four days before the fifth phase of the Lok Sabha elections scheduled for Monday, when polling is to be held in Ladakh.
A senior government official told ThePrint that authorities in Ladakh had taken custody of CCTV footage from Hotel Sangaylay in Leh, the venue for the press conference held by BJP leaders, including the party’s J&K unit president Ravinder Raina. Sources also said if the journalists’ claims are found to be correct, a communication will be sent to the Chief Electoral Officer, J&K, for further action.
Avny Lavasa, Ladakh’s deputy commissioner and district election officer for the Lok Sabha polls, confirmed this.
“The inquiry should be concluded by this evening. We are examining the CCTV footage. Authorities will take suitable action as per the legal requirements,” Lavasa said.
Journalists’ version of the event
Journalists in Ladakh had filed an official complaint with the local police and the deputy commissioner on 3 May.
“After the press conference was over, BJP leaders including state president Ravinder Raina and MLC Vikram Randhawa tried to bribe the media persons by offering us money in envelopes in an attempt to use our platform to influence the outcome of elections,” the complaint letter issued by the Press Club Leh and signed by seven journalists stated.
“We didn’t accept the offer and rejected it out rightly and we showed our anguish at their attempt.”
ThePrint reached out to three journalists present at the press conference — Tsewang Rigzin, Rinchen Angmo and Morup Stanzin.
Rigzin, bureau chief of the newspaper The State Times, said: “After they (BJP leaders) concluded their talk, Mr Randhawa stood up and started giving envelopes. Around 10 journalists were present there. By the time the fourth journalist received the envelope, there was a commotion. We came to know that the envelopes were filled with 500-rupee notes.
“As soon as the money was discovered, I stood from my chair and walked up to Mr Randhawa and told him bluntly to stop this. He told me that they do this in Jammu too, so what was the problem? I asked him does he think we are in this profession so that we can be bought. We have been genuinely been hurt. What do they think of us?”
“We first filed the complaint about the incident, then we had a meeting after the incident to decide whether to go public. We decided we should wait for authorities to take action. However, we also wondered that if the BJP leaders were giving money to journalists in a press conference, what would they be doing in their rallies and campaigns. Still, we decided to wait and watch, but our complaint surfaced on social media.”
Rinchen Angmo, meanwhile, said the journalists at the press conference had “fought corruption”, and it was now up to the authorities to take appropriate action.
Stanzin, president of Press Club Leh, added: “We have found out that Mr Raina has sought an apology from us and even claimed that he was not there. How can he say all this? He was sitting there while Mr Randhawa distributed the four envelopes. He should take responsibility for what has happened and apologise for trying to hurt our dignity.”
ThePrint tried reaching out to Raina for a comment for this report, but his phone remained switched off.
BJP state general secretary Ashok Kaul refuted the allegations, claiming that the envelopes contained press invites to an event that was to be attended by union defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Arunachal Pradesh CM Pema Khandu.
“We don’t know who, but one press person created a scene saying envelopes had money in it. They were invitation cards. It is unfortunately that the press people have made such claims,” Kaul said.