In a setback for the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Uttarakhand that came to power in March, the Election Commission of India has asked the Central Board of Direct Taxes to revaluate the immovable properties declared by Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat in his poll affidavit.
In a letter addressed to the chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes, the Election Commission wrote:
“I am directed to refer to the subject cited and to forward herewith a copy of the complaint dated 30 October 2017 received from Sh Raghunath Singh Negi, Dehradun, for re-valuation of the immovable properties of Sh Trivendra Singh Rawat which had been declared in the affidavit furnished in the Legislative Assembly election of Uttarakhand in 2017. A report may be sent to the Commission in this regard.”
The letter was issued on December 19, a day after the results of Assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh were announced. The BJP retained Gujarat, with a lower tally of seats than in the last elections, and wrested Himachal Pradesh from the Congress, winning 44 out of 68 seats.
The complaint against Rawat was filed by former BJP leader Raghunath Singh Negi. He has accused Rawat of grossly undervaluing several plots of land owned by him in the affidavit he furnished to the Election Commission in January as a BJP candidate for the elections. He has also alleged that Rawat lied about his age in the affidavit.
Furnishing false information in an election affidavit attracts a prison sentence of up to six months and/or a fine under section 125(A) of the Representation of People Act of 1951.
Amit Shah’s key man
Rawat, who was a pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh till 2002, won the election from Doiwala Assembly constituency in Dehradun, defeating Congress candidate Hari Singh Bisht by 24,000 votes.
Rawat is considered close to BJP chief Amit Shah, with many commentators speculating that this proximity got him the chief minister’s post. When Shah was given charge of Uttar Pradesh during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Rawat served as one of his four lieutenants in the politically crucial state. Rawat is also credited with having a hand in the BJP’s victory in the 2014 Jharkhand elections, where he was Shah’s pointsman.
Rawat’s first brush with controversy came in 2010, when he was agriculture minister in the previous BJP government in Uttarakhand. He was implicated in alleged irregularities in the agriculture department’s purchase of Dhaincha (green manure crop) seeds, which were meant for distribution to farmers. The Congress government that subsequently came to power ordered an investigation in the matter but it remained inconclusive.
The Congress highlighted Rawat’s alleged involvement in the case when he was named chief minister. But within months of taking charge of the state, the inquiry commission’s report was tabled in the Assembly and Rawat received a clean chit. The Congress protested, saying the report was tabled after the business schedule of the House was suddenly changed late at night and the party’s legislators were not informed about the change. It accused the government of “legislative manoeuvring”.
In the matter of Rawat’s poll affidavit, the Election Commission’s letter does not mention a time frame for the Central Board of Direct Taxes to submit its report. But in the event of a negative finding, Rawat might find it difficult to hold on to the chief minister’s chair.
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