New Delhi: The Election Commission of India (ECI) Friday ordered repolling in polling booth 149 of Ratabari seat in Assam following the furore over an electronic voting machine (EVM) being transported in the car of Patharkandi BJP candidate Krishnendu Paul. A video of the EVM in Paul’s car had gone viral on social media Thursday.
Breaking : Situation tense after EVMs found in Patharkandi BJP candidate Krishnendu Paul’s car. pic.twitter.com/qeo7G434Eb
— atanu bhuyan (@atanubhuyan) April 1, 2021
The poll body further suspended the officers responsible for the transportation of the EVMs. “The ECI has taken a very stern view of this. While a report from the special observer is still awaited, a repoll has already been ordered given the seriousness of the issue,” an EC official told ThePrint. “All the officers responsible have been placed under suspension, and necessary action will be taken.”
Tweeted by journalist Atanu Bhuyan, the video surfaced on social media after the second phase of polling concluded in Assam Thursday. The video was then tweeted by Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi, who said that the poll body must act decisively on such complaints and that a serious re-evaluation of the use of EVMs needs to be carried out by all national parties.
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
Polling party boarded MLA’s car by mistake: EC
In a press release issued Friday, the ECI said that the vehicle carrying the polling party, which consisted of a presiding officer and three polling personnel, broke down Thursday due to heavy rains and traffic congestion. The sector officer was immediately informed, and arrangements for an alternate vehicle were being made, the release further stated.
While the sector officer was arranging for an alternate vehicle, the 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.
Around 9.20 pm, the polling party boarded a vehicle along with the EVMs without checking the ownership of the vehicle, the EC statement added. It was only after a mob surrounded the vehicle, and started pelting stones at it, did the polling party realise that the vehicle belonged to the BJP candidate.
“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 statement added.
“In this regard, the 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 EC said. “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. A report has also been sought from the Special Observer.”
Congress conspiracy, claims BJP
The BJP in Assam is alleging that the entire row is a Congress conspiracy.
The BJP MP from Silchar, Dr Rajdeep Roy, alleged that the MLA, Paul, and his cousin have been “framed” by Congress leaders and that it is their “malicious intent to defame BJP”.
He echoed the EC’s version of events. According to Roy, the MLA’s cousin was actually “helping the polling officials of Ratabari constituency” to transport the EVMs to the collection centre as their car broke down.
“While the polling officials of Booth No 149 were returning to Karimganj headquarters after polling, their car broke down at Neelam Bazar, 13 km from Karimganj,” Roy said. “There was a vehicle coming by and these people waved at it, asking for help to transport the EVM to the headquarters. The gentleman in the car agreed to help. Incidentally, he happened to be the cousin of the candidate who hails from nearby Patharkandi constituency.”
“When they were about to reach Karimganj, there was a massive traffic jam in the area. Some people peeped into the car and saw there was an EVM, they realised it was Krishnendu Paul’s car and created a hue and cry,” he added.
He also slammed Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi over the incident. “It’s very unfortunate because the real story is against what Priyanka Gandhi and her team has publicly portrayed,” Roy told ThePrint. “Without any facts or proof, these are unjustified allegations by Gandhi and Congress leaders of Barak Valley. We will abide by what the EC is saying, our stand has primarily been to abide by the EC. But it’s not based on facts, only allegations. There was no complaint yesterday from Booth No. 149.”
Disqualify Paul, says Congress
The Congress is demanding that Paul be disqualified from the election. Party leader Sushmita Dev termed the incident a “conspiracy and a criminal act of the BJP”.
“It is shocking that an EVM machine is found in the vehicle that is registered in the name of the BJP candidate from Patharkandi,” Dev said in a video statement. “How can it be that an EVM machine is transferred in a candidate’s car from the polling station to where it’s kept till counting? I don’t think it’s ever happened in the history of Assam.”
“It is clear that the BJP is losing Assam and they are using illegal means to win. It is unacceptable,” she added.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)