Even though nearly two days have passed since the results of the Gorakhpur by-polls were announced, the controversy involving the Gorakhpur district magistrate, Rajiv Rautela, is refusing to die down. It has been reported that Rautela – known to be a close confidante of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath – attempted to prevent mediapersons from reporting from a counting centre.
In the early hours of counting, Rautela came in for sharp criticism from the journalists present at the counting venue for allegedly directing them to vacate the centre while counting was on. According to a reporter present at the centre, by 11 am, four rounds of counting had been completed, but the media were not provided with the figures (according to convention, the figures are made public after each round).
“When we found out that they had already counted five rounds and had still not declared the results, we asked the DM why the results were being kept a secret. He did not give us a proper response and instead directed us to vacate the counting centre,” said a reporter who wished to remain anonymous.
Soon several TV reporters present at the venue began to report the issue, and prominent journalists took to Twitter to voice their angst.
Shameful behaviour by Gorakhpur DM: not allowing the counting details to be put out in public domain, blocking media out. Sir, you are a public servant not a rep of a political party for god sake! #UPByPolls
— Rajdeep Sardesai (@sardesairajdeep) March 14, 2018
By noon, the UP Vidhan Sabha was adjourned as the opposition created an uproar by jumping into the well of the house while chanting slogans, “Loktantra ki hatyari sarkar nahi chalegi” (We will not accept a government that tries to murder democracy), “Vote Ki dhandli band karo” (Stop vote rigging).
Rautela, who has now found himself in a tight spot, decided to make peace with reporters and started announcing the figures after each round of counting.
But what was the DM trying to achieve?
Manoj Singh, a senior journalist based in Gorakhpur, weighs in. “It is no secret that the DM is a close aide of Yogi Adityanath. One can only guess what the objective was, but I can tell you that something similar happened in 1999 when Adityanath won by a slender margin of 7,000 votes. The Nishad candidate, who came second, still alleges that there was vote rigging,” Singh told The Wire.
The kind of relationship Rautela enjoys with the state government is evident from the fact that despite a 2017 Allahabad high court order recommending the suspension of Rautela in an illegal mining case, the state government is yet to take any action. “Even when the court directed the chief secretary to carry out an investigation, no proper investigation has happened,” said Singh.
In August last year, when 70 children died in a Gorakhpur hospital after it ran out of oxygen, fingers were pointed at the Gorakhpur administration – among others – for having failed to pay heed to several warnings that had been raised prior to the tragedy. However, the head of the administration, Rautela, escaped without even being questioned.