Five days after Karan Kataria, a 23-year-old student of London School of Economics (LSE) was disqualified from the student union elections, the committee, which heard his appeal to the decision, told The Quint, "Karan's Indian or Hindu identity never played a role in our decision to disqualify him."
On condition of anonymity, a member of the all-student LSE committee that took the decision, said:
"We made the decision based on complaints that he intimidated student voters."
Originally from Haryana, Kataria, an LLM student at LSE’s School of Law has been alleging that he's been discriminated against by the LSE Student Union (LSESU) due to his "Indian and Hindu identity." He also claimed the presence of a "smear campaign” against him.
The Quint spoke to a member of the committee which heard Karan Kataria’s appeal and upheld his disqualification, who not only refuted Kataria's allegations but also provided details of the complaints against him.
What has the LSESU Committee Member Said?
“There was nothing Hinduphobic around us disqualifying him from the student union polls. His Hindu identity was not a matter of consideration when we made this decision. Karan’s belief that the committee which made the decision was Hinduphobic.... I can guarantee you that that's not the case since the committee itself is extremely diverse.”Member of LSE committee that disqualified Karan Kataria
Kataria had slammed the LSE Student Union (LSESU) after he was disqualified from contesting the General Secretary’s post, stating that instead of punishing those responsible for the alleged smear campaign against him, the student body cancelled his candidature "without providing any proof or evidence of the allegations."
A member of the committee that upheld the disqualification, however, starkly refuted Kataria’s claims and said, “He has been going around telling news channels that no one heard what he had to say but he met with the committee. We heard what Karan had to say in the appeal as well.”
The committee member told The Quint that they received Kataria’s appeal after the returning officer, who is tasked with ensuring that a free and fair vote takes place, made a decision to disqualify him.
"We received seven different complaints from LSE students, alleging that Karan coerced their votes,” said the committee member.
The committee upheld the decision to disqualify Kataria based on two such complaints.
“We informed him of the evidence against him and asked for an explanation but Karan failed to give us any sufficient evidence to back his claims that it was a coordinated attempt aimed at harming him. He claimed that students were influenced by messages about him circulated on various groups. But we received seven different complaints (of voter coercion) and we looked at each of them individually.”Member of LSE committee that disqualified Karan Kataria
The Complaints Against Karan Kataria
The Quint accessed three of the seven complaints lodged against Kataria’s election practices.
“Dear LSESU Representation, I did not make my most recent vote myself, and I felt uncomfortable about the way that my vote was collected (i.e. I felt coerced or intimidated into voting a certain way). This is because someone came up to me in CBG (LSE’s Centre Building) and clicked their way through on my phone into voting for whoever received my vote. I did not even get a chance to read their manifesto. The encounter was in total around 20 seconds, after which the perpetrator walked away.”An LSE student's complaint against Karan Kataria
Narrating the incident, the committee member told The Quint, “We watched the CCTV footage where we saw that Karan went up to the complainant, who was sitting at LSE’s Centre (CBG) Building, and makes her scan a QR code."
"They don't know what they're scanning and Karan subsequently takes their phone, votes for himself and returns the phone. We saw this happen and the student in question filed a complaint," they added.
To ascertain that Kataria voted for himself using a fellow student’s phone, the committee matched the time stamp of the complainant’s vote to the CCTV footage where they saw that at the time of the vote being cast, “Kataria was holding the student’s phone.”
“They (Karan Kataria and his friend) were standing close enough for me to scan the small QR code on his flyer. However, I should note that I did not actually cast my vote at that time, as I mentioned in my initial email — I opened the election link through the QR code but felt I needed more information before voting, so I walked away after getting his social media handle. My complaint is about the pressure that Karan and his team were putting on me and others to vote for him, which I feel is inappropriate regardless of whether I personally voted, especially as I know not everyone else would have been able to walk away as I did. I hope this clears things up.”A second LSE student's complaint against Karan Kataria
While the student in question was able to walk away without having Karan cast a vote for himself, they submitted a complaint to the committee, a member told The Quint, under the condition of anonymity.
“The main issue was with Karan, who used my phone in the ground floor of CBG on Friday morning to vote for himself. He showed me the QR code and I was not sure what he wanted me to do but then he took over and started tapping the buttons on the screen himself, before I had the chance to stop the vote. He also put in a vote for another candidate, who was standing nearby. Then he walked away from me and up to her and I saw him nod at her, to almost indicate he got another person's vote.”The third complaint against Karan Kataria by an LSE Student
The committee member, speaking to The Quint under the condition of anonymity, backed up the complaint and said, “One of Karan’s friends was campaigning with him and we could see in the CCTV because he was holding Karan’s pamphlets, distributing it to people. The person in question kept looking over fellow students as they voted.”
For the Returning Officer and the committee who handled the appeal, “just two complaints (of using a fellow student’s phone to vote for himself) were reason enough to remove Karan from the election because it's a clear violation of election rules.”
The committee member said
“We made a very objective decision.”
Karan Kataria’s Allegations of Procedural Error
"Some individuals could not bear to see an Indian-Hindu leading the LSESU and resorted to vilifying my character and very identity in what was clearly in line with the alarming cancel culture which is uprooting our social communities," Kataria previously told The Quint on a phone call.
He also alleged that several procedural lapses happened on part of the committee that handled the appeal. He claimed that the LSESU “conveniently disqualified” him without hearing his side of the story.
Kataria had said:
"I appealed the decision on the grounds that I wasn't even heard once, and no evidence was provided against me. There is a committee, which is responsible for the appeal – four members need to sit on it. But only one individual out of four was present during the appeal, and one joined via a Zoom call."
"Why were two other individuals, who haven't even heard me, a part of the ruling?" he added.
According to the committee’s regulations, the appeal must be replied to within 24 hours, within which the committee has to interview the Returning Officer, the student union staff, hold discussions over multiple statements in the matter, all while performing the regular tasks of a student.
“Karan came to us on Thursday and since we’re all students with extremely different schedules, we decided to record the meeting on Zoom. When we spoke to him, which actually happened unlike Karan's claim, we recorded the meeting and presented it to the other two members.“
Moreover, the committee member further referred to a previous conversation Kataria had with The Quint, where he said that two members of the committee took his statement and made a decision.
“That falsely represents that the two members of the committee made their own biased decision. The meeting was recorded and presented to the other members of the committee, on the basis of which a decision was taken,” the committee member told The Quint.
Moreover, The Quint was informed that while Kataria claimed that “no evidence was provided” against him, the committee informed him of all the evidence but was bound by General Data Protection Regulations (GDPRs), under which a student’s personally identifiable information cannot be presented without their consent.
According to the committee member, all the complainants remained anonymous since they were concerned about their own safety, especially after the incident began making the rounds on social media.
The Quint has reached out to Karan Kataria for a response. This story will be updated once we receive a statement.