Diwali is the season when a box of sweets, dry fruits, and wishes are exchanged. However, for the Karnataka chief minister’s office, the festival of lights involved adding another packet to the hamper — Rs 1 lakh in cash for a select group of journalists.
A Lokayukta complaint has been filed by the Janaadhikaara Sangharsha Parishath (JSP), an anti-corruption NGO, seeking a probe into the distribution.
“It is alleged that this payment of money as part of Deepawali gift, a sweet box amounts to serious allegations of bribery to gain undue advantage in hiding and hushing up various allegations being published/ broadcasted against the government led by the Chief Minister of Karnataka,” said co-president of JSP, Adarsh Iyer, in his letter addressed to ADGP, Karnataka Lokayukta.
JSP has sought a criminal case be filed against the Karnataka chief minister and his media coordinator under the Prevention of Corruption Act of 1988 and amendment in 2018.
As is the routine during the festive season, a box of sweets and dry fruits is sent out to media houses as a token from the CMO. A representative from the chief minister’s office meets and greets reporters and editors on the behalf of the CM.
But the package that landed at some select television and print media offices on October 22 left journalists fuming as a few from regional and national media who covered politics were sent the ‘special hamper’ with two wads of Rs 500 notes, totalling Rs 1 lakh.
News18 has confirmed with a group of journalists and editors who were sent the “outrageous Diwali hamper” that they returned it to the CMO with a warning.
“At first it seemed like a harmless Diwali sweet hamper. But when we opened the contents and found money amounting to Rs 1 lakh, we immediately called the CMO media representative and made our objection known. We very clearly said that this was unacceptable and it was never to be repeated,” said a senior journalist who requested anonymity.
“It was not only shocking to have received it but it is preposterous that it can be considered that the media can be given money,” said another reporter who brought the issue to the notice of his seniors before returning the hamper.
Sources say that soon after the issue was brought to the notice of CM Bommai, he personally called the editors of the media outlets to apologise for the “blunder” that was committed unknowingly by his office.
News18 reached out to the CMO and the media officers but they did not respond or comment on the issue.
Congress took the issue up and sought a detailed inquiry into the matter. Through its official Twitter handle, the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) called it a misuse of the taxpayer’s money by the ruling BJP government.
“What is the source of the money? How many bribes have been paid? How many received bribes? How many (journalists) returned?” the state Congress unit questioned the move.
The party added that the ‘PayCM’ campaign accusing the BJP and CM Bommai of 40 per cent corruption in administration was based on facts and this was a glaring example of it.
“This government is receiving bribes and giving bribes. All bribes are routed through ‘PayCM’. The government is trying to hush up scams by purchasing media outlets just like the government came to power by purchasing MLAs,” their tweet added.
Senior Congress leader and Karnataka Congress in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala demanded to know the source of the money and sought the attention of the Enforcement Directorate and the IT department.
Responding to the allegations, the Karnataka BJP in a tweet said: “The Congress has been shooting in the dark and making false accusations. The Congress seems to have forgotten that their leader DK Shivakumar had given away IPhones which became big news across the state.”
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