Agartala: The polling for 59 Assembly constituencies in Tripura on Sunday saw 78.56 percent voter turnout. At 10 pm, polling was still on in 22 booths. While voting was to begin at 7 am and end at 4 pm, queues at some polling booths began moving only after 10:30 am as malfunctioning electronic voting machines (EVMs) were being replaced or repaired. The voter turnout at noon was 27 percent. It shot up to 47 percent at 1 pm and 74 percent at 4 pm.
At a press conference in New Delhi, additional election commissioner Sudeep Jain admitted that several complaints had come about the failure of EVMs during polling. "But, on actual verification, many of them (complaints) were found to be not genuine. Until 4 pm, 12 ballot units and control units and 97 VVPAT (voter-verifiable paper audit trail) were replaced. These numbers are far-far lesser than normally found replacement figures. Nothing unusual about these," he said.
Sudeep also said that no incidents of violence were reported in the state. "Two crude bombs were recovered, which were disposed of."
While Tripura chief electoral officer (CEO) Sriram Taranikanti had earlier told 101Reporters that the technical glitches will be scrutinised on Monday by observers and an inquiry will be ordered, he later denied making the statement. On the wide gap in voter turnout this time compared to the 2013 state elections, where 91.8 percent registered voters polled, the CEO said he did not wish to comment.
However, Sriram said that "with about 3,200 booths, technical glitches are bound to be there. It is not that many of the machines were replaced, but they were rectified soon and started to function. A team of about 180 engineers helped us address the problems."
Political parties slam 'unprepared' EC, trust voters to hang on
Senior CPM leader Gautam Das condemned the unpreparedness of the state election commission and said voters in almost all constituencies suffered because of malfunctioning EVMs. "Polling started at many booths after 10 am. There were reports from some booths that machines continued to have faults even after being replaced or repaired once," he said.
Das believed some voters may have even returned due to faulty machines. "But most of our voters are serious about preserving their democratic and constitutional right. That's why they were still in the queue."
While Tripura Pradesh Congress general secretary Harekrishna Bhowmik said that his party will accept whatever the mandate is, he also criticised the Election Commission (EC) for the reports on EVMs. "It is the responsibility of the election commission. It is not a routine disturbance. This was observed across all constituencies. It is our apprehension that EVMs were not checked properly beforehand. Voters will ask the EC. Political parties will also ask whether the commitment of EC towards keeping booths equipped was up-to-mark," Bhowmik said.
Tripura BJP chief Biplab Kumar Deb too felt the glitches must've had an impact. "Some voters started lining up at 5 am. And then, the EVM machines were found not working. If the machines were working fine, the voting would've ended at 4 pm."
However, he placed full faith in "BJP voters". "Some people may have gone back, but it won't matter. BJP voters won't return because they are passionate. They are youths, women and stubborn. Without a doubt, we'll win. Tripura needs mukti (salvation)."
BJP candidate accuses CPM cadres of threatening her
Bishwajit Naha, a 35-year old Agartala-based voter, told 101Reporters that he didn't have many complaints against the present government except for "the corruption done by mid-level leaders". He said even if BJP does not win the elections, support for the party has increased in the state. "It will be difficult for CPM to stay in power for too long. It's only natural because it's not possible to keep everyone happy for so many years," he said.
Meanwhile, Kalyani Roy, BJP candidate from Teliamura constituency in Khowai district, accused CPM cadres of disrupting the poll process by campaigning in her constituency. "There is cadre-raj going on here. They threatened me with life when I questioned them. I am filing an FIR at Teliamura police station," she said.
The EC had postponed polling in Charilam constituency following the death of CPM candidate Ramendra Narayan Debbarma while he was campaigning last week. It will now be held on 12 March.
The authors are members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters. With inputs from Prabhu Mallikarjunan and Pranav Prakash
Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 15:02 PM