Assam polls: EC orders repolling in Ratabari booth after EVM found in BJP candidate's car; Congress threatens to boycott polls

The area also witnessed violence over the incident on Thursday night, forcing the police to fire in the air to bring the situation under control

FP Staff April 02, 2021 17:55:40 IST
Assam polls: EC orders repolling in Ratabari booth after EVM found in BJP candidate's car; Congress threatens to boycott polls

A polling party was travelling in a BJP's candidate's car in Assam's Ratabari constituency. Twitter@atanubhuyan

The Election Commission on Friday ordered a repoll in a polling booth in Assam's Ratabari constituency, after people spotted a BJP candidate's vehicle being used to transport a polled EVM to the safe room on Thursday night. The second phase of the Assembly election in the state was conducted earlier on Thursday.

The area, in the Karimganj district, also witnessed violence over the incident on Thursday night, and the police resorted to firing in the air to bring the situation under control and ensure the polling team's safety.

Taking cognisance of the incident, the EC issued a statement saying that the presiding officer of the booth and three other officials have been suspended.

"Although the seals of the EVM were found intact, it has nevertheless been decided to do a re-poll at No. 149- Indira MV Schoolof LAC 1 Ratabari (SC) as an added precaution," the poll panel said. A report has also been sought from the special observer, the statement added.

The BJP candidate at the centre of the controversy, Krishnendu Paul, reportedly rubbished the allegations of EVM tampering and said that his brother, who was in the vehicle when the incident happened, just gave a lift to the poll officials as their vehicle broke down.

He was also quoted by India Today as saying, "He was also quoted by India"My driver was in the car. Polling officials asked him for help and he obliged. There was a pass pasted on my car that said I am a BJP candidate. I can't say whether the polling officials were aware of this or not. We simply helped."

The incident snowballed into a huge controversy on Friday, with the Opposition Congress and AIUDF alleging that the EVM was being "stolen".

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi attacked the BJP over the incident and said, "EC's car breaks down, BJP's intentions are bad, the condition of democracy worsens."

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra added that the EC "needs to start acting decisively" on reports of private vehicles transporting electronic voting machines, and a serious re-evaluation of the use of EVMs needs to be carried out by all national parties.

"The fact is that too many such incidents are being reported and nothing is being done about them," she added.

Polling team's car developed snag, says EC

According to details made public by the EC, the polling party of polling booth number 149 of Ratabari constituency comprised of a presiding officer and three polling personnel. They were accompanied by a police constable and a home guard.

After the completion of polling at 6 pm on Thursday, the polling party left in a vehicle provided by election authorities and was escorted by an armed escort.

However, it was raining heavily and their vehicle developed a snag, the EC said. "Due to the traffic congestion and the prevailing weather condition, the party became detached from its convoy."

The polling party got down from the vehicle and dialled the sector officer, asking for a new vehicle. While the sector officer was arranging for the new 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.

The polling party hailed a passing vehicle and boarded it along with the EVM — ballot unit (BU), control unit (CU) and paper trail machine (VVPAT) — and other things without checking the ownership of the vehicle, the EC said.

As reported by the polling party, they moved towards Karimganj and 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 Krishnendu Paul, who is a candidate contesting in the neighbouring constituency (Patharkandi LAC-2).

"It was only then that they realised that something was amiss and alerted the sector officer. However, a larger crowd had gathered by then and they were attacked and held hostage by a mob along with the EVM in the vehicle at 2145 hrs alleging that the EVM was being taken to be tampered with," the statement said.

"In the meanwhile, the antecedents of the vehicle were ascertained and it was found to be was registered in the name of Madhumita Paul, wife of contesting candidate, Patharkandi LAC No 2, Krishnendu Paul," the statement said.

Police fire in air to disperse crowd; BJP candidate rubbishes allegations of tampering

Police reached the spot along with the district election officer and used force to pull out the polling party.

"The Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Police reached the spot immediately and they tried to pacify the mob. But the crowd did not listen, forcing the police to fire in the air to disperse them," police sources were quoted by PTI as saying.

After dispersing the crowd, the DC and the SP brought the EVMs to Patharkandi police station, from where it was taken to the strong room in
Karimganj town, the report added.

"Later, on examination, the polled EVM comprising 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," a statement by the poll commission said.

Meanwhile, the BJP candidate Paul also said that the BJP's Ratabari candidate is winning the election by a huge margin and there was no question of tampering.

"There was a huge traffic snarl on the highway as hundreds of poll vehicles were returning to Karimganj following the elections. Our vehicle, a Bolero, was stuck in the snarl near Karimganj town, and suddenly a politically-motivated mob arrived at the spot and created a ruckus. They thrashed my driver and vandalised the car."

"I am from Patharkandi, and the EVM was of Ratabari. What reason would I have to tamper with them? Bijoy Malakar is anyway winning the Ratabari seat by at least 40,000 votes, why will the BJP attempt tampering?" he claimed.

Assam Opposition parties slam BJP, accuse it of 'rigging EVMs'

In addition to Congress leaders, AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal also said that the incident indicated an attempt to "steal" EVMs as the BJP is losing the elections.

"Polarisation? Failed. Buying votes? Failed. Buying candidates? Failed. Jumle-baazi? Failed. Double CMs? Failed. Doublespeak on CAA? Failed. Loser BJPs last resort: steal the EVMs. Murder of democracy," Ajmal tweeted.

Demanding an explanation and immediate action, Assam Congress chief Ripun Bora said the party will consider boycotting the election if "this open loot and rigging of EVMs" does not stop immediately.

Lok Sabha MP and Assam Congress Campaign Committee chairman Pradyut Bordoloi said: "Why can't the BJP gracefully accept they are losing #AssamAssemblyElections2021? Stealing EVMs and rigging the result won't do you any good."

Congress Manifesto Committee chairman Gaurav Gogoi said the EC needs to save itself before public trust is eroded completely as it is the "same script" in every election.

Holding a press conference in Guwahati, the newly-created Raijor Dal also criticised transporting the EVM in a BJP candidate's vehicle and said it is the "signal of the party's defeat".

"Not only in Karimganj, but we heard many such incidents from other constituencies as well. Reports came from even Sibsagar seat, where Akhil Gogoi contested, that there were some irregularities related to the EVM," Raijor Dal adviser Sitanath Lahkar said.

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