Congress deems Karnataka CM Bommai kingpin of voter data theft as cheque book with minister name surfaces

Letterheads, cheques, envelopes with name of a sitting BJP minister, who is also a former DCM, seized by police during raids at the NGO's office in Malleswaram.

ByBellie Thomas

Published Nov 20, 2022 | 12:10 AM Updated Nov 20, 2022 | 12:10 AM

Congress leaders at the KPCC Office releasing documents on the Voters Data Theft Scam

The row over alleged voter data theft by an NGO in Bengaluru is getting murkier by the day.

AICC General Secretary Randeep Singh Surjewala, KPCC President DK Shivakumar and Opposition Leader Siddaramaiah on Saturday, 19 November, described Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai the kingpin of the voters’ data theft row in Bengaluru.

They said an FIR should be registered against him as “principal offender”, as well as BBMP commissioner Tushar Giri Nath, for entrusting the NGO Chilume with the task of collecting sensitive voters’ data from citizens in Bengaluru while posing as government employees.

The Congress leaders, in a press conference at the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) office in Vasanth Nagar in Bengaluru, demanded the resignation Bommai on moral grounds as he was the district in-charge minister as well.

“Bommai, on the one hand, says that the allegations of the Voters Data Theft scam is baseless while, on the other hand, he asks his police to file a case of cheating and impersonation and investigate into it. They will then arrest some scapegoat who is probably a whistle-blower,” said Surjewala.

‘Culprits ordering probe’

“There is a prima facie case and, ironically, the main culprits are the ones that are ordering a probe,” Surjewala said questioning: “Why was an FIR not registered against the head of the Chilume NGO Krishnappa Ravikumar, Byrappa and others?”

The Congress leaders released a set of documents on Saturday — including a letter written by the BBMP to the Chilume NGO asking it to conduct the electoral poll drive at the 174-Mahadevapura ward, collecting voters ID numbers and/or updating them on an app, etc.

“This is just an example of one constituency. They have done this kind of work in all the 28 constituencies for which we are collecting documents and other evidence,” said Shivakumar.

BBMP's letter to the Chelume NGO released by Congress leaders on Saturday

BBMP’s letter to the Chilume NGO released by Congress leaders.

Soon after the cases were registered at the Kadugodi and Halasuru Gate police stations, the police conducted raids at the Chilume office in Malleswaram. The police seized letterheads and cheques belonging to a minister and BJP MLA who is also a former deputy chief minister. There were also envelopes with the MLA’s name and address.

“The police also seized a money-counting machine, printers and other gadgets from their office,” Shivakumar added.

The Congress leaders have themselves conducted a probe into the case and stumbled on two advertisements that Chilume had posted for hiring employees.

“The first advertisement was for field surveyors and the second one was for business development executives with salaries ranging from ₹15,000 to ₹25,000,” the Congress leaders pointed out.

Moreover, there were incentives for the field surveyor for a particular data entry. For example, if a surveyor identified a new voter, he would be paid ₹30 per candidate of whom he has taken details of and entered into the system.

“They agreed to pay ₹25 to each surveyor who verified a voter with complete details. And ₹50 to each surveyor if the subject voters data are all entered, which is actually the duty of a Booth Level Officer (BLO) during election. There are around 300 to 400 booths per constituency in the city,” the Congress leaders alleged.

“Who is paying for all of this? The BBMP claims that the Chilume NGO had volunteered to do the drive for the BBMP creating awareness about the upcoming BBMP elections, but there are crores and crores of rupees riding on this. Who is funding this? Wouldn’t the chief minister or the BBMP commissioner know of this?” Surjewala questioned.

Advertisement of the Field Surveyor by Chelume NGO - released by Congress Leaders on Saturday

Advertisement for field surveyor issued by Chilume NGO, released by Congress leaders on Saturday.

According to Congress leaders, the voters’ data theft happened over the past three to four months and data has been collected from almost all voters in the 28 constituencies in Bengaluru. “It’s a criminal offence,” they said.

“And where is this data now? Who has it and what are they going to do with it — selling the data for commercial gains for elections?” asked Surjewala.

“The Chilume NGO hired thousands of such field surveyors and business development executives and have collected voters’ data. With this data, they (BJP) would do whatever they want. They would add list of voters, and they would delete a list of voters whom they know would not vote for them, etc,” said Opposition leader Siddaramaiah, who termed who called it Votergate, like Watergate in the US.

“The voters’ data can be grossly misused and we have brought it to the notice of the State Election Commission’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) and have filed a complaint with him.”

The Congress leaders reiterated that the scam was serious in nature as it steals the voting rights of the people of Karnataka, and urged that an FIR be registered against Chief Minister Bommai and the BBMP Commissioner, along with founders and directors of Chilume

They also demanded a court-monitored probe.

“It is a case of voters’ data theft and Chilume is only a cog in the wheel. If the State Election Commission does not probe it well, we will approach the Central Election Commission,” said Siddaramaiah.