BJP Bid to Remove Voters from Electoral Rolls in Bengaluru’s Muslim-Dominated Area: Report
Representational Image. Image Courtesy: PTI
New Delhi: Hundreds of voters, particularly Muslims and dalits, in Bengaluru’s Shivajinagar constituency could lose their spot on the voters’ list with the Election Commission initiating action against them on the basis of a contentious complaint by activists of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), says a media report.
The complaint alleged that 26,000 fake voters had been identified as either shifted out or dead in the constituency. Election authorities started issuing notices to 9,159 voters in January 2023, but the move has been criticised for violating the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) laid down by the Election Commission of India (ECI).
According to a report published in The News Minute (TNM), the complaint, filed in October 2022, alleged that 26,000 fake voters had been identified as either shifted out or dead in the constituency.
The SOPs state that suo-motu deletions cannot be made in the six months prior to the end of an Assembly term to avoid confusion that could erode voters' faith in the legitimacy of the exercise. However, the ECI has sought to justify its actions by invoking a clause which allows deletions under 'special circumstances'.
Retired IAS officer and chairman of the NGO, People-First, MG Devasahayam, has questioned the ECI’s justification. “How is a complaint filed by a political party, that too with en-masse names, a special circumstance?” TNM quoted Devasahayam.
Shivajinagar, located in the heart of Bengaluru, has approximately 1.91 lakh voters, 40% of whom are Muslims. The constituency has been represented by a Congress MLA since 2008. As per the report, the controversy began with a private complaint filed by BJP sympathisers in October 2022 listing out 26,000 voters. Following an investigation published by TNM in November 2022, the ECI ordered a 100% check of all deletions and additions to the electoral rolls in Shivajinagar by December 24, 2022. The investigation found that a private agency named Chilume, with links to the BJP, had been collecting voter data illegally from many constituencies, including Shivajinagar. The findings led observers to suspect that the list of 26,000 names forwarded to the ECI was compiled by Chilume, claimed the report.
The final electoral roll for the Shivajinagar constituency was published on January 15, 2023. Eight days after the electoral roll was published, the BJP went to the ECI 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. Meanwhile, the Congress has accused the BJP of trying to “vitiate the atmosphere” by taking these actions well after the final electoral rolls were published.
The 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 stated that if they did not appear before the Electoral Registration Office on the given date and time, their names would be deleted from the electoral list, says the report.
The timeline of this exercise has raised several questions. Retired IAS officer MG Devasahayam, who is a co-petitioner in the Supreme Court in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging the rule that allows the deletion of voters without intimation, questioned why the notices were sent after the final rolls were published, why action was not taken earlier, and whether the BJP filled 26,000 Form 7s, which is mandatory to raise an objection and delete a name in the existing electoral roll. The Electoral Registration Office confirmed that BJP did not fill any Form 7, but both the CEO and elections officials at the BBMP maintain that the complaint by the BJP makes out a ‘special circumstance’.
TNM said its ground visit revealed “gaping holes” in ECI’s narrative that all 9,159 names were verified by booth-level officers. The report quoted several dalit and Muslim residents who corroborated “foul play”. S Rajan, a dalit resident of the Makaan compound in Shivajinagar, stated that he received a call from ERO’s office asking him to establish his residency, to which he confirmed that he still lived at the same address. He told TNM: "I have lived here in this house all my life but now they are saying that I have shifted somewhere else. My family has been living at the same address for the past 80 years and suddenly the BBMP's list states that I along with two other members of my family have shifted to another address.”
Another resident told TNM that despite living in the same house since birth, she received a notice asking her to verify her address, or her name would be deleted. “I went to the ERO’s office to reverify but I don’t understand why only I received the notice from my family and have to verify my address despite living here all my life,” said Rabbiya Fathima.
Anwar Basha and his wife recently acquired voter IDs after the “tedious application process” but were disappointed when Congress volunteers told them that they had been marked on ‘address shifted’. The couple alleged they had neither got any notices from the ECI in their old or new address nor received any calls. "I got the voter ID just six months ago. After following the process of applying for the voter ID, my wife and I got the voter ID and now we found out that we may not be included in the voters' list," Basha told TNM.
Congress MLA Rizwan Arshad has alleged that “voters are getting harassed. Many people replied to the first notice, despite the fact that they have been issued a second notice asking them to appear. This process is to tire people out. I don’t know why Shivajinagar was chosen for this experiment. Maybe because this is a safe seat for the Congress, the BJP wants to see if deletion will help them win”.
When asked by TNM, CEO Manoj Kumar Meena insisted that even if people don’t respond to the two notices, they may still not be deleted from the electoral rolls. “We have not suggested any action. Media reports that said names were deleted were wrong, this is an ongoing process. Once our report is ready, the ECI can decide. We can suggest any course of action including deletion or moving to the Absentees Shifted Deleted (ASD) list.”
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