The Election Commission of India (ECI) has ordered a repoll at a booth in the Ratabari assembly constituency in Assam after there were allegations that the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) used at No. 149- Indira M.V. School may have been tampered with. It appears that the EVM had found its way into a vehicle owned by the local BJP candidate, and now the ECI has offered an explanation that few are buying.
Polling took place at this location on April 1, after which the polling party was returning in a convoy escorted by an armed police escort. It was raining and the road was muddy and there was a traffic congestion on NH8, the only arterial highway leading into Karimganj.
According to the ECI, at about 9 P.M, just as the convoy was approaching Nilam Bazar, the vehicle that was carrying the EVM broke down. This vehicle had been allotted by the District Collector’s office. Curiously, this happened with the rest of the convoy nowhere near them!
According to a statement released by the ECI, “Due to the traffic congestion and the prevailing weather condition, the party became detached from its convoy. The party alighted from the vehicle and called the Sector Officer Sri Ajoy Sutradhar on his mobile and informed him. While the sector officer was arranging for an alternate vehicle, polling party decided to arrange a vehicle of its own so as to reach the Material Receipt Centre faster since they were in custody of polled EVMs.”
This is when trouble began as shortly after this, “At about 2120 hrs, the polling party hailed a passing vehicle and boarded it along with their EVM and other things without checking the ownership of the vehicle bearing the number AS-10B-0022.” Curiously, this vehicle that they just “hailed” turned out to belong to the wife of the local BJP candidate.
Meanwhile, just as they reached Kanaishil in Karimganj at about 2200 hrs while travelling in the BJP leader’s vehicle, they had to slow down in the traffic. “As they slowed down, they were surrounded by a mob of about 50 people which started pelting stones at them. The mob also 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 Sri Krishnendu Paul who is a contesting candidate of a neighbouring constituency (Patharkandi LAC-2) and he levelled allegations that the EVM was being taken to be tampered with,” said the ECI.
The mob accused them of taking the EVM for tampering with it. It attacked them and held them hostage. DEO Karimganj along with SP Karimganj reached the spot at about 10:20 P.M, just as the mob had managed to break the glass of the surrounded vehicle by pelting stones at it. They were allegedly pulling away athe polling party and about to assault them. According to the ECI, “During the course of the stone pelting, SP Karimganj sustained minor injuries on his collarbone and blank firing had to be resorted to disperse the mob. The first polling officer was found missing in the commotion, the EVM’s and the remaining polling party along were safely escorted from the area and taken into the control of the DEO at 2320 hrs.”
Meanwhile, the vehicle “was found to be was registered in the name of Smti. Madhumita Paul, Wife of contesting candidate, Patharkandi LAC No 2, Shri Krishnendu Paul,” said the ECI.
The Congress had raised serious concerns over the conduct of polling officials. Priyanka Gandhi retweeted a video of the incident and demanded answers from the ECI.
Every time there is an election videos of private vehicles caught transporting EVM’s show up. Unsurprisingly they have the following things in common:
1. The vehicles usually belong to BJP candidates or their associates. ….
— Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (@priyankagandhi) April 2, 2021
.. The EC needs to start acting decisively on these complaints and a serious re-evaluation of the use of EVM’s needs to be carried out by all national parties. 3/3
— Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (@priyankagandhi) April 2, 2021
Rahul Gandhi too wondered about the BJP’s alleged role in the matter:
EC की गाड़ी ख़राब,
भाजपा की नीयत ख़राब,
लोकतंत्र की हालत ख़राब!#EVMs
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) April 2, 2021
The Congress also questioned how the BJP vehicle became available within minutes of the designated vehicle breaking down.
As far as the EVM is concerned, the ECI said, “On examination, the polled EVM comprising of BU, CU and VVPAT was found to be with its seal intact without any damage whatsoever. All the items have been deposited in the strong room.”
The first polling officer meanwhile remained missing till the morning and was said to be hiding in the bushes nearby to save himself from attackers. Search operations took place all night and this apparently delayed the transmission of the report by a few hours according to the ECI.
Meanwhile, action has been taken against the polling officials. According to the ECI, “Presiding Officer was issued show cause notice for violation of the transport protocol. Thereafter, the PO & 3 other officials have been placed under suspension.”
The ECI has also ordered a repoll saying, “Although the seals of the EVM were found intact, it has nevertheless been decided to do a re-poll at No. 149- Indira M.V. School of LAC 1 Ratabari (SC) as added precaution.” They have also sought a report from the special observer.
The suspension order may be viewed here:
However, suspending a few EC officials will not be enough. A proper inquiry needs to be conducted into the involvement of the BJP. Also, action needs to be taken against the candidate whose car was used, but curiously, there was no mention of any action against Krishnendu Paul.