A document in The Caravan’s possession shows that on 10 April, about two weeks before the union territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu are scheduled to go to polls, the Election Commission of India issued a notice to their administrator, Praful Khoda Patel. The notice states that Patel’s actions violated provisions under the Representation of the People Act of 1951. The notice, a copy of which is with The Caravan, reprimanded Patel for having issued a “coercive” request to Kannan Gopinathan, the collector for Dadra and Nagar Haveli, who is also serving as the returning officer for the union territory—he is responsible for overseeing the election result. The commission asked Patel to withdraw any notices he had issued to Gopinathan or any other election officials “during the election period.” Polls in Dadra and Nagar Haveli are scheduled to take place in the third phase of the Lok Sabha elections, on 23 April.
As the administrator for the union territory, Patel is Gopinathan’s superior. Patel is known to be a close associate of the prime minister Narendra Modi. He formerly served as the minister of state for home in Gujarat, succeeding Amit Shah, the present chief of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
According to the election commission’s notice, on 28 March, Patel issued a note to Gopinathan, seeking an explanation regarding some “old matters.” Gopinathan lodged a complaint with Pooja Jain, the chief election officer for Dadra and Nagar Haveli. According to an officer attached to the election commission, Gopinathan alleged in his complaint that by sending him notices when the model code of conduct was in force, the administrator was attempting to intimidate him. According to the laws governing Indian elections, once the model code of conduct is in effect, officers incharge of conducting elections are directly under the deputation of the election commission, and cannot be given any orders or notices by the administrator. The Caravan contacted Jain and Gopinathan, but they declined to comment.
Patel took charge as the administrator of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu in August 2016. He was the first politically appointed administrator in the history of the union territories, a position that had previously been held only by officers from the Indian Administrative Services. In 2010, Amit Shah resigned as the minister of state for home in Gujarat, after he was arrested in connection with the allegedly staged encounter killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh. Shah was the prime accused in the case. Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat at the time, chose Patel to succeed Shah.
Officials attached to the election commission told us that soon after the elections dates were announced—and the model of code of conduct came into force—Patel began conducting himself in a manner that appeared to violate the principle of the model code. This would mean that Patel called top officials within the administration, who also serve as election officers, and issued them direct instructions.