Shahroz Afridi | Jun 2, 2018 | 5 min read
The Election Commission of India (ECI) has sent a team to Madhya Pradesh to look into the allegations that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been getting bogus voters list prepared to tip the election in its favour.
The Congress has alleged that the state ministers have been misusing their office and have thus got 60 lakh bogus names added to voters list. Acting on the complaint, the ECI set up a special team, which arrived in the state's capital Bhopal on Monday to find out the truth. The team includes principal secretary-rank officer Sumit Mukherjee and ECI's Information Technology director VN Shukla.
Senior Congress leader Mahendra Singh Chouhan--who contested 2013 Assembly poll in a losing effort against chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan--had first raised the issue of bogus voters list at a press conference in October 2017. He told FirstPost the Congress conducted a physical verification of voters list and discovered the extent of bogus names that have crept in it.
To cite an example from Narela Assembly constituency, he said they found that a small shanty of 600 sq ft area has 117 voters registered. He said they found many such households with more than a hundred registered voters, all belonging to different religions and castes.
He claimed that BJP MLA from Narela and a state minister, Vishwas Sarang, has his brother's, wife's and sister's name enrolled in multiple constituencies. He said he had brought this to the attention of Madhya Pradesh's Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Salina Singh, after which the names of the MLA’s kin were deleted from the voters list. However, in response to 117 voters being under one roof, he said the election office explained it as a clerical mistake but did not mention rectifying the mistake.
Chouhan alleged that the voters list is manipulated in a systematic manner. He accused Sarang of running a parallel election office in his constituency. He said the minister gets voter registration forms filled at his office and gets them approved from the election office without anybody questioning it. Chouhan alleged that some employees working in the election office told him they were helpless and under pressure to toe the line.
Congress spokesperson Pankaj Chaturvedi said the ruling party has formed a nexus with government employees who are in charge of voters list and that this operation has the nod of senior officials.
Modifying voters list is the responsibility of Booth-Level Officers (BLO), who are generally Class III employees of the state government. They report to election supervisors, who are generally senior clerical employees such as section officer or revenue inspectors. These officers work under assistant returning officer, who reports to the returning officer (rank of deputy collector or sub-divisional magistrate). The district returning officer, the collector, is the final authority in this chain of command.
Requesting anonymity, a BLO told this reporter that the entire staff works under pressure from the senior officials.
Minor voters, major issue
Former spokesperson of state Congress and a part of the team that exposed irregularities in the voters list, Sajid Qureshi, said photographs and identities of even minors are being used in large numbers to make bogus voters list. He explained how the same person can tackle the indelible ink and cast vote multiple times. He said people use fake fingernails, available easily as a fashion accessory for women, and some chemical to wipe off the ink and fool the system.
Chaturvedi said that ahead of Assembly by-elections to Kolaras and Mungaoli seats, held this February, the Congress submitted a list of ~20,000 bogus voters in Kolaras and ~18,000 in Mungaoli to the Election Commission. He said the collector of Ashoknagar was removed from his position after that and the Congress won both the seats. He reasoned that the BJP never complaining about fake voters must mean the party was benefiting from them.
The BJP denied any wrongdoing on its part. Party spokesperson Rahul Kothari said the Congress is trying to create uncertainty in the minds of voters with such allegations. He accused the Congress of always trying to create a mountain out of a molehill to benefit in elections. He called the entire issue a conspiracy of the Congress and demanded action against the guilty.
Lok Sabha member from Madhya Pradesh, Congress's Jyotiraditya Scindia, had advised the ECI during a meeting in Delhi to take help from technology experts to track and fix duplications in voters list. Congress spokesperson Ravi Saxena asked why the ECI cannot develop such a software if a political party can.
Nodal officer, media communication - election, Pralay Shrivastava, admitted that voters list must be riddled with duplications of names owing to some technical glitches in the newly introduced system by the BLOs. To rectify the issue, he said the ECI is conducting a Special Summary Revision of the voters list. Under this endeavour, he informed that BLOs are conducting door-to-door verification of the voters list. He said more than eight lakh names have been deleted already. He said the final voters list would be published by September 27 this year. The state’s CEO has written a letter to collectors of all the districts to pay special attention on revision of voters list.
Meanwhile, the ECI's team would conduct probe in Bhojpur Assembly constituency represented by minister Surendra Patwa, Hoshangabad Assembly constituency represented by Vidhan Sabha speaker Sitasaran Sharma and Seoni Malwa constituency represented by former minister Sartaj Singh. The team has to submit its findings by June 7.
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