The Election Commission of India (ECI) on Friday suspended four poll officers in Assam after they took ride in a Bharatiya Janata Party candidate’s car yesterday with a polled electronic voting machine (EVM), which sparked violence in Karimganj district in Barak Valley region of the state. The incident has drawn heavy flak from the opposition with Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra calling for a ‘serious re-evaluation’ of EVM use.
The poll panel’s team was taking a polled EVM from the Ratabari constituency in a private car on Thursday when a crowd near the EVM strongroom in Karimganj spotted it as not being a vehicle belonging to the EC. The crowd, mainly comprising supporters of opposition parties, identified the car as belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate from Patharkandi and mobbed it. The driver and the officials deserted the vehicle for their own safety. To control the crowd, the police fired blank shots in the air and baton-charged them, as per media reports.
The poll officials took lift in the car after the EC’s car broke down midway, according to media reports that cited official sources.
The EVM and the poll officers were secure, authorities said.
The EC said the vehicle was registered under the name of Madhumita Paul, wife of sitting BJP MLA from Patharkandi Krishnendu Paul, who is also the BJP candidate from the seat this time.
Following the violence and the controversy, the Election Commission on Friday released a ‘factual report’ on the incident saying the officially assigned vehicle of the polling party comprising a presiding officer and three polling personnel, and accompanied by a constable and a homeguard, broke down near Nilam Bazaar at 9 pm on Thursday. The polling party’s car became detached from its convoy due to “traffic congestion and prevailing weather condition (heavy rain)”.
Then presiding officer contacted the sector officer for a replacement vehicle after their car broke down and was assured that he would get one.
Meanwhile, the poll panel team decided to use the said private vehicle without checking its ownership as they intended to “reach the Material Receipt Centre faster since they were in custody of polled EVMs,” the EC’s report said.
The report added that the Presiding Officer was issued show cause notice for violation of the transport protocol while the him and three other officials were suspended. The EC has also resided to do a re-poll at the booth no. 149, Indira MV School in Ratabari for “added precaution” even though they found the EVM without damage.
The Deputy Commissioner and the Superintendent of Police had brought the EVMs to Patharkandi
police station at night, from where it was taken and deposited at the strong room in Karimganj town, police sources told PTI.
The incident has sparked widespread outrage with a video clip of the EVM being found in the car going viral on social media.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra alleged on Twitter that every time videos emerge of private vehicles being caught while transporting EVMS, they have three common things: “1. The vehicles usually belong to BJP candidates or their associates. 2. The videos are taken as one off incidents and dismissed as aberrations 3. The BJP uses its media machinery to accuse those who exposed the videos as sore losers.”
Claiming that many such incidents were being reported, she said, “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.”
Assam’s Congress leader Gaurav Gogoi shared the viral clip on Twitter saying, “This is the only way the BJP can win Assam: by looting EVMs. EVM capturing, like there used to be booth capturing. All under the nose of the Election Commission. Sad day for democracy.”
Further commenting on the EC’s ‘factual report’, Gogoi said, “The response of the @ECISVEEP - police escort got separated, junior poll officers took a decision without supervisor, coincidentally BJP candidate’s car was flagged down- and the lack of enquiry in role of the BJP candidate raises further questions.”