Web cameras were set up at 1,841 of the 1,857 polling stations in Kerala’s northern district of Kannur, notorious for political violence, to ensure free and fair elections. Yet the live webcast of the polling process from the booths did not deter party workers from resorting to bogus voting in some constituencies in the southern state.
A video aired by Malayalam news channel Mathrubhumi showed at least six instances of bogus voting by workers of ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) at polling booth 19 at Pilathara at the Kalliyaseri segment in Kannur district. This segment falls under the neighboring Kasaragod Lok Sabha constituency.
The video shows two women from other booths casting votes at Pilathara and another casting her vote twice in the booth. One of two is a CPM local body member. The visuals obtained from the webcasting stream also showed a CPM leader standing inside the polling booth and directing voters during polling.
“This is only tip of the iceberg. Large-scale bogus voting has taken place in several polling booths in Kannur and Kasargod constituencies. We are gathering evidence, including video footage, to take up the matter with the concerned authorities,” said Satheeshan Pacheni, Kannur district president of the Congress.
He said they will approach the Election Commission with all the evidence within a couple of days. The party will approach the Supreme Court if the election authority does not take satisfactory action.
Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Mullappally Ramachandran has already demanded re-polling at all booths where more than 90 percent votes were cast.
Pacheni added that electoral malpractices were mostly reported from Kannur district, which shares Assembly segments with Kasargod and Vatakara constituencies. He said that the party had brought several instances of bogus voting to the notice of election officials, including the district returning officers, but none of them took any action to prevent further such illegal acts.
Complaints regarding bogus voting in the two northern constituencies assumes political significance since the CPM had won the two seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha election by a narrow margin. While the party retained the Kasargod seat by a margin of 6,921 votes, it wrested Kannur from the Congress by 6,566 votes.
Congress Kannur candidate K Sudhakaran said that fake votes had been polled at 94 booths in the Taliparamba, Azhikode and Dharmadam Assembly segments of the constituency, which incidentally recorded the highest polling percentage of 82.8 percent in the Lok Sabha election in Kerala.
Rajmohan Unnithan, the Congress candidate from Kasargod, said there was widespread fake voting in the Payyannur and Kalliaseri Assembly segments, which fall under Kannur district. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala alleged that CPM workers had cast around 5,000 bogus votes in Kasargod constituency alone.
Adoor Prakash, the Congress candidate from Attingal in Thiruvananthapuram district, alleged large-scale double voting in the constituency, which is a CPM stronghold. Before voting, he had lodged a complaint about discrepancies in 1.12 lakh identity cards issued to voters in Attingal.
The Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party had also expressed fears about bogus voting in Kannur district before the election. The Grand Old Party had filed a petition at the Kerala High Court seeking measures to prevent this illegality. The Election Commission had placed 65 percent of the 3,621 web cameras used in the state in Kannur alone on the high court's direction to ensure free and fair elections.
However, these cameras failed to prevent the electoral malpractices. Congress booth agents at some of these polling stations alleged that CPM workers had manipulated the cameras and thrown them out of the booths to pave way for the bogus voting.
U Ramachandran, the Congress polling agent at Pilathara, said the electoral roll he had with him was torn up, and he was forced to leave the booth when he tried to stop such an incident. Rafeeq, another Congress agent at Booth 18 at Pilathara, said CPM workers had threatened him when he refused to leave the booth. He said he was ultimately forced to leave the booth at 1 pm.
Congress leaders claimed polling at several booths in Kannur district were deliberately delayed to facilitate bogus voting. Sudhakaran said voting at some booths in Kannur continued till 11 pm even though no glitches in the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were reported from these booths.
Complaints about bogus voting have come up during most elections in Kannur, but this is the first time visuals supported these claims. Therefore, Congress leaders are hopeful that their complaints this time will be taken up seriously.
Although several cases were registered in the past, none of those involved in the fake voting have been prosecuted, so far. Curiously, the police have omitted the names of those who cast the bogus votes whenever they filed the chargesheets in these cases.
A glaring case in this regard is related to 25 bogus votes cast at the Eruvessy booth in Kannur district during the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The chargesheet that the police recently filed in this case contains the names of only five officials present at the polling booths. The police justified the exclusion of the bogus voters, saying investigators could not identify them.
The Kannur district Congress chief said the party was gearing up for a legal battle to ensure that no one dares to sabotage the election in future. "Bogus voting is a common practice in Kannur and Kasaragod. We want to bring an end to this highly undemocratic practice,” he added.
However, the Election Commission has taken serious note of the media reports on bogus voting. Chief Electoral Officer Teekaram Meena has sought immediate reports from the district electoral officers regarding these complaints. He said he will initiate legal and criminal procedures against the concerned officials if the allegations are found true.
The Kannur district electoral officer has reportedly submitted his report confirming bogus voting. Reports said he had based his report on the basis of the feedback he had received from the webcasting operators, who said the videos aired by the media were genuine.
Meanwhile, the CPM has sought to defend itself, claiming that the purported bogus votes were open votes. Party Kannur secretary EP Jayarajan said the instances shown in the videos were those of open votes cast with officials' permission.
However, he refused to comment on the failure of the officials in complying with the guidelines for open voting. Jayarajan said the allegations against the party were baseless, and the Congress was raising the matter out of fear of electoral defeat. "Since we have not done anything wrong. we are ready for any investigation," he added.
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Updated Date: Apr 29, 2019 15:11:59 IST