Bharatiya Janata Party's bid to attract voters by offering free tea at stalls named after Narendra Modi received a blow on Monday when election authorities ruled free distribution of tea amounted to bribing voters.
A tea-maker distributes tea during BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi's 'Chai pe Charcha' sessions at Shalimar Bagh in New Delhi. (HT photo/Sonu Mehta)
In fact, several workers of the saffron party were booked for organising an event in Lakhimpur district, where the participants, while listening to Modi's speeches on LED screens, were offered free tea.
The workers have also been charged with not seeking permission from local authorities for the event.
The EC asked electoral officers in the district to check distribution of NaMo tea at these stalls, following a complaint filed against local BJP leaders, including former chairman of Mohammadi municipality Sandeep Malhotra.
"Anything that is being distributed for free by a political party during election would be construed as an attempt to entice voters, something that is not allowed," said Uttar Pradesh chief election officer.
Read: Lalu competes with NaMo chai, tops it up with a biscuit
When contacted, state BJP chief Laxmikant Bajpai said, "I am yet to hear about the issue. May be NaMo tea is being taken as an attempt to influence voters. In that case we would consider possibility of putting a price to tea. However, we wish to reinstate that orders of the election commission would be followed in letter and spirit."
UP joint chief electoral officer Ramakant Pandey said all election officers have been directed to film all NaMo tea stalls and keep a watch on the BJP's Chai pe Charcha programme.
Since no legal action would be taken if the tea at NaMo stalls is being sold, the EC's direction in that case would mean that expenditure on running these stalls would be added into the election expense of the BJP and party's Lok Sabha candidate as per the poll watch-dog's norms.
Read: At dinner for MPs, Modi says connect with people over chai
Sensing an opportunity, the Congress has decided to seek action against the BJP on NaMo tea stalls.
"As per electoral laws, it amounts to bribing the voters. We would ask the commission to initiate action against the BJP in this regard," said the party's in-charge of legal cell KC Mittal.
The BJP came up with NaMo tea stalls after Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar said Narendra Modi is fit to serve tea at All India Congress Committee (AICC) sessions. The party, however, distanced itself from Aiyar's comments.
Read: Modi can't be PM, can sell tea: Mani Shankar Aiyar
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