• EVM found in car of BJP Patharkandi candidate’s wife
• Cong slams EC, demands more security in final phase
SILCHAR, April 2: The discovery of a ‘polled EVM’ from a polling station in Ratabari constituency by a mob in Karimganj from a car registered in the name of the wife of Patharkandi’s BJP candidate Krishnendu Paul on the evening of the second phase of polling on Thursday triggered a huge controversy, leading the Election Commission of India to issue an order on Friday for repoll.
The ECI issued the order for repoll at the polling station no.149 Indira MV School of Ratabari constituency and also took action against the Presiding Officer and three other officials by putting them under suspension.
In a press note, the ECI said that “on examination, the polled EVM comprising of BU, CU and VVPAT was found to be with its seal intact without any damage whatsoever” and all the items were deposited in the strong room. A report has also been sought from the special observer.
Asked about the incident, Krishnendu Paul said he was “absolutely unaware” of the developments. “The matter has been given colour and there is a conspiracy behind it,” he said, adding that polling was peaceful in Patharkandi and he is confident of retaining the seat.
Meanwhile, Karimganj Deputy Commissioner Anbamuthan MP, who had rushed to the incident site along with SP Mayank Kumar, said that the date for repoll is yet to be announced.
PTI adds from New Delhi: According to details from the ECI, the polling party of booth no.149 of Ratabari constituency – a presiding officer and three polling personnel accompanied by a police constable and a home guard – left in a vehicle provided by the election authorities and escorted by an armed escort, after completion of polling at 6 pm on Thursday.
It was raining heavily and the vehicle developed a snag. Due to traffic jam and the weather, the vehicle got detached from its convoy, and the polling party got down and asked the sector officer over phone to arrange a new vehicle.
While the sector officer was arranging the new vehicle, the polling party decided to arrange a vehicle on its own so as to reach the Material Receipt Centre faster since they were in custody of polled EVMs.
The polling party hailed a passing vehicle and boarded it along with the EVM, ballot unit, control unit and VVPAT, and other things without checking the ownership of the vehicle.
As reported by the polling party, they moved towards Karimganj and had to slow down due to the traffic. As they slowed down, they were surrounded by a mob of about 50 people which started pelting stones at them.
The mob started abusing them and did not allow the vehicle to pass. When they asked the leader of the mob, he replied that it was the vehicle of Krishnendu Paul, and alleged that the EVM was being taken “to be tampered with”.
The polling party then alerted the sector officer, but a large crowd gathered and they were attacked and held hostage by the mob along with the EVM in the vehicle. Police later reached the spot along with district election officer and used force to pull out the polling party.
Meanwhile, the vehicle was found to be registered in the name of Krishnendu Paul’s wife Madhumita Paul.
Spl Correspondent adds from New Delhi: Meanwhile, the EC here said it has received a report from the Special General Observer, General Observer and Police Observer of the said LAC and has recommended action be taken against the armed escort officer for leaving behind the stranded polling party and not ensuring their safe arrival at the destination.
The EC said there does not seem to be any grounds for change of the RO as this appears to be an isolated incident, due to the “total negligence and foolishness” of the Presiding Officer and his team. There is otherwise no deliberate or mala fide intention in the incident aimed to disrupt the polling process, it said.
Our Staff Reporter adds from Guwahati: The Congress on Friday alleged that EVM malfunctioning has taken place across Assam and called upon the ECI to ensure that voters are not denied the opportunity to exercise their franchise.
“A total of 139 polling stations faced EVM malfunctioning and the areas include Jagiroad, Nagaon, Hojai, Nilbagan and Lumding. Polling duration should be increased if needed in all areas where incidents of EVM malfunctioning have taken place,” All India Congress Committee general secretary Randeep Singh Surjewala said in Guwahati.
“Several EVMs were found in the boot of a luxury car near Hatipura polling station in Diphu. In Jamunamukh, one vehicle with EVMs was seized. Government officials were carrying the EVMs without the presence of security personnel. Voters in a polling station in Kalaigaon complained of an EVM disappearing from the booth. Later, as the situation worsened, police had to open fire to control the situation. There was also a report about the presence of some suspicious individuals in the strong room in Dibrugarh. It is a matter of great concern and the Congress has lodged complaints with the Returning Officer,” he said.
Surjewala said that such instances “point to lapses by the Election Commission and incompetence of officials”.
He also said that there have been reports of Congress members being kidnapped, posing a question mark on the security arrangements. “According to reports reaching us, one Youth Congress leader was kidnapped in Barhampur. In Baithalangso, one polling agent of the Congress was also kidnapped,” he said.
The party demanded increase in security during the third phase of polling on April 6.
“The people of Assam now understand the dirty tricks of the BJP and how they are breaching the trust of the people. A viral video showed an EVM being transported in Patharkandi in BJP candidate Krishnendu Paul’s car,” Surjewala said.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took a swipe at the EC, tweeting in Hindi that the “EC’s car has broken down, the BJP’s intentions are bad and the condition of democracy has worsened”.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said the EC needs to start acting decisively on reports of private vehicles transporting electronic voting machines, and a serious re-evaluation of the use of EVMs needs to be carried out by all national parties.
Tagging a tweet which carried a video showing EVMs in the car of a BJP candidate in Assam, she said every time there was an election, videos of private vehicles caught transporting EVMs show up. “Unsurprisingly they have the following things in common: The vehicles usually belong to BJP candidates or their associates. The videos are taken as one off incidents and dismissed as aberrations. The BJP uses its media machinery to accuse those who exposed the videos as sore losers,” she said.