Image Courtesy: deccanherald.com
Hundreds of voters, particularly Muslims and Dalits, in Bengaluru’s Shivajinagar constituency could fall off the voters’ list with the Election Commision initiating action against them on the basis of a “complaint by BJP activists”. Described by the Opposition, Indian National Congress (INC) as malicious and communally motivated, this complaint was made in October 2022 and alleged that 26,000 fake voters had been identified as either shifted out or dead in the constituency. Currently Rizwan Arshad is the sitting MLA from the Shivajinagar constituency of the capital Begaluru. BJP is pushing for thousands of voters to be deleted in a Muslim-dominated Bengaluru area
Election authorities reportedly got active in January 2024, when the final voters’ list was being prepared, and issued notices to 9,159 voters. This has been viewed as a violation of the SOPs laid down by the ECI on September 13, 2021, which said that suo motu deletions cannot be made in the last six months of an Assembly.
The SOP is prescribed in order to avoid last-minute chaos before polls, which could erode voters’ faith in the process. But in the case of Shivajinagar, the ECI has sought refuge in a rather obsolete clause which allows deletions under ‘special circumstances’. “How is a complaint filed by a political party, that too with a bunch of names, a special circumstance?” asked MG Devasahayam, retired IAS officer and chairman of the NGO, People-First.
The Shivajinagar constituency, in the heart of Bengaluru, has around 1.91 lakh voters, 40% of whom are Muslims. The constituency has been represented by a Congress MLA since 2008. The controversy this time round started with a private complaint filed by BJP sympathisers in October 2022 listing out 26,000 voters. Electoral rolls are not easy to come by and the leak of these names has become a matter of speculation.
The final electoral roll for Shivajinagar constituency was published on January 15, 2023. This is when the BJP directly got into the Shivajinagar slugfest. Eight days after the electoral roll was published, the BJP went to the Election Commission demanding that the 26,000 names mentioned in the private complaint should be removed. The party followed it up with a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court on February 1. The Congress immediately accused the party of trying to vitiate the atmosphere by choosing to take these actions well after the final electoral rolls were published.
Chief Electoral Officer of Karnataka Manoj Kumar Meena told TNM that election officials cross checked all 26,000 names and found that 9,159 had either shifted out of their old homes or died. Accordingly, two notices were issued to hundreds of people between January 10 and February 15 asking them to appear before the election authorities. The notices said that if they don’t appear before the Electoral Registration Office on the given date and time, their names will be deleted from the electoral list.
The News Minute (TNM) has in a detailed report today raised the question of whether a timeline of this exercise throws up several questions, including whether a complaint filed at the last minute by any party can vitiate an election process.
“Why were these notices sent after the final rolls were published? The complaint was filed in October 2022; if the CEO wanted to take action, why was it not done before? Rules mandate that Form 7 has to be filled if anyone wants to raise an objection and delete a name in the existing electoral roll. Did the BJP fill 26,000 Form 7s? If they didn’t, why did the CEO’s office accept their complaint? Anyone can raise a complaint like this,” MG Devasahayam, retired IAS officer told the media. Incidentally, he is a co-petitioner in the Supreme Court in a PIL challenging the rule that allows the deletion of voters without intimation.
The Electoral Registration Office confirmed to TNM that the BJP did not fill any Form 7. Despite this, both the CEO and elections officials at the BBMP maintain that the complaint by the BJP makes out a ‘special circumstance’. “We cannot ignore the complaint,” said Meena. A ground visit by TNM revealed gaping holes in the Election Commission’s narrative that all 9,159 names were verified by Booth Level Officers.
(Report based on The India Cable and on ground reporting by Newsminute)