Ninglun Hanghal looks at the range of electoral irregularities reported during the current general election.
One month after balloting in the Gurgaon Lok Sabha constituency in Haryana, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has ordered repolling in 8 booths in the constituency. This follows a complaint filed by the Aam Admi Party listing irregularities in 110 polling booths in the constituency. The repoll will be held one day before ballots are to be counted on May 16, 2014.
Across states, re-polling was held in a number of Parliamentary constituencies in the just concluded polling for 16th Lok Sabha. Out of the total 35 States and Union Territories in India comprising about 900,000 polling stations, repolling has been held in a couple of hundred booths, spread over 11 states, primarily due to faulty or non-functioning of electronic voting machines (EVMs).
Names missing from the voter list was the most significant irregularity this election. Allegations against polling officials, poll related violence, rigging, booth capturing, loss of lives in conflict zones, such as Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand and North East Indian states, were other problems affecting voting. Boycott calls and no-voter turn-out were also witnessed in few constituencies.
As many as 34 polling stations in Arunachal Pradesh’s Kurung Kumei, Upper Subansiri , East Kameng, West and East Siang districts went for a re-poll due to defective EVMs. In Bihar, repolling was held in 30 booths, in Katihar, Banka and Supaul parliamentary constituencies. The Election Commission ordered re-poll at these polling stations as the non-functioning EVMs could not be replaced on time.
Due to faulty, defective EVMs, 12 booths in Karnataka were re-polled, in Haveri, Bagalkot, Bijapur, Gulbarga, Raichur, Bidar, Shimoga, Hassan and Tumkur districts. So too in Kerala where re-polling were conducted in four polling stations of Idukki, Alathur, Wayanad and Ernakulam constituencies due to technical errors. In Madhya Pradesh, re-polling was held in one booth in Khandwa district owing to
technical error in the EVM.
At times, pre-poll exercises led to identification of defective EVMs and polling dates were rescheduled in four polling stations of Mumbai North Central and Mumbai North West constituency in Maharashtra. Four polling station went for a repoll in Rajasthan. These are in Barmer and Churu district. Two polling booths went for a repoll due to technical error in EVMs in Salem and Namakkal in Tamil Nadu. Repolling was held in one booth in Malda (South) constituency in West Bengal due to the non working EVM.
In a rare occurrence, one polling booth in Thoubal district in Inner Manipur parliamentary constituency went for a repoll due to mis-match of numbers, where the votes casted were higher than the voter list. Over allegations of involvement of polling officials in malpractices and rigging in Assam’s 15 polling booths in Kokrajhar, Nagaon, Darang and Dispur districts, repolling was ordered besides arrest of polling officers due to their alleged involvement in malpractices in Guwahati district. Malpractices were also the reason for repoll in four booths
in Porbandar district in Gujarat. Two polling stations in Zunheboto and Longleng districts in Nagaland were also re-polled due to allegations of bogus voting and malpractices.
In Gurgaon Lok Sabha constituency, repolling in 8 booths are being held, where the reported turnout was 95%. According to media reports, in 30 booths, the turnout was over 90%. Although it was reported by media persons who found that many people in these areas whose polling finger was not marked with the inedible ink. AAP had accused two other political parties to have engaged in systemic rigging.
Election polling in many parts of the country is also an occasion when grievances were expressed in the form of boycotting the polls, with no voter turn up in support. But, no repoll were held in those polling stations.
In Sisiang village in East Siang district of Arunachal, people boycotted the polls in expression of their anger against the State Government’s apathy to the development of their villages. The polling booth saw no voter turn-out. So too in Khargone’s Satavada village in Madhya Pradesh, electorates did not turn up to vote in protest against the lack of basic facilities in the villages. One polling station in Thoubal, Manipur, people boycotted the polls due to police’s inaction against a threat issued by miscreants. Dates for polling were deferred after the boycott by NGOs an civil bodies in Mizoram against the Election Commission’s decision to allow tribal refugees’ living in Tripura’s relief camps.
This general election also saw violence in different part of the country. Repolling were conducted in six polling booths in Chandel, Senapati and Ukhrul districts in Outer Manipur Parliamentary constituency where EVMs were destroyed and booths captured allegedly by insurgent groups. In Orissa due to massive booth rigging and damage of EVMs allegedly by Maoist, repolling were conducted in nine polling stations. These were six booths under Jagatsinghpur; two other booths in Keonjhar and one booth in Kendrapara district. Complaints of booth
rigging and intimidation of voters and polling officials were the reason for repolling in five polling stations in Firozabad and Etawah districts of Uttar Pradesh as well.
Though this election was relatively peaceful in most states, in sensitive and conflict areas, loss of lives and casualties were reported. Boycott calls and ‘threats’ were issued by separatist and Maoist groups as well. Thirteen persons, including poll officials and CRPF jawans were killed in Maoist attacks in Darbha Valley in Sukma district and Bijapur in Chhattisgarh. Polling personnel could not
reach polling stations in hyper sensitive areas in Kanker district. Two polling booths in Dumka, Jharkhand were repolled in the aftermath of an ambush by Maoist killing five security personnel in which EVMs were also destroyed.
In Gossiagaon district in Assam, one policeman died during the violence that ensued in a polling station. Scuffles, clash between party workers and injuries were reported in West Bengal, mostly in North 24 Parganas and adjoining areas of Kolkata.
The new state of Telangana and Seemandhra in its first ever election after the bifurcation, saw violent polling. Subsequently, ECI ordered 12 polling stations in Telangana and 17 polling stations in Seemandhra for a repoll. The reason being complaints of intimidation, clashes between party workers, booth rigging, destructions of EVMs allegedly by Maoist and malfunctioning of EVMs.
Normal life and polling were affected in Kashmir valley with the boycott call by Hurriyat conference leader Geelani, who had asked the people to observe “civil curfew” in the aftermath of the detention of separatist leaders by police while they were campaigning for poll boycott in south Kashmir. While no major incidents were reported, stray violence were reported in Baramulla , Kupwara and Badipore
A major drawback of this election is the missing names reported from various constituencies, particularly across Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and Bangalore. Approximatly, 5-6 lakh voters could not exercise their franchise in Maharashtra alone. While the ECI apologised for this omission, surprisingly, it also held citizens responsible for not checking the status of their voter ID on the commission’s website well in advance.
According to the ECI, as per January 1, 2014 the total electorate is 814.5 million. This is an increase of 100 million from previous Lok Sabha 2009 election that recorded 713 million electorates. ECI states that the maximum electorates are in the age group of 18 – 19 years that made up to 23 million voters.
This General Election was the longest ever of all the Indian elections. From its notification on 5th March, the Model Code of Conduct that ends on the counting on May 16, the elections ran upto 72 days. In an election of this scale and scope in the world’s largest democracy, no one believes that the range of irregularities will really impact the final outcome of the elections. In all these decades of hard electoral contests, no political party has refused to accept the verdict of the ballot. The Election Commission of India needs to be complimented for successfully concluding yet another national election. But there is no room for complacency, as there is always scope for improvement.