On Thursday, a video had emerged where a private car was seen ferrying an Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) in Assam. It emerged that the vehicle belonged to BJP’s Patharkandi MLA Krishnendu Paul. The vehicle was intercepted by ‘locals’ and thrashed the polling officials travelling in it, alleging that the EVM was being transported in a vehicle owned by a BJP leader to tamper with the votes stored in it. The vehicle was also badly damaged in the attack.
The incident came to light during the 2nd phase of polling for Assam State Legislative elections. Soon after the video went viral on social media, Congress started alleging that BJP is tampering with the EVMs in the ongoing elections. Now the Election Commission has come up with a detailed explanation of the events. The Commission has also suspended the officers involved in the case, and ordered a repoll for the concerned polling booth.
As per reports, the car was intercepted and then stopped by locals in Karimganj. In the video shared on social media, a man in the background could be heard saying, “Oi dekhun Krishnendu Pal er gadit Evm paowa gesa (Look EVMs have been found in the car of Krishnendu Paul)”. The passengers of the car were forced to get down.
When they tried to enter their vehicle, they were physically stopped by the locals. “Gaadi jaigat thakto (The car will stay in its place), warned one local to the passengers. The car bearing the number plate of AS10B0022 is registered in the name of Madhumita Paul, the wife of the BJP MLA.
Breaking : Situation tense after EVMs found in Patharkandi BJP candidate Krishnendu Paul’s car. pic.twitter.com/qeo7G434Eb— atanu bhuyan (@atanubhuyan) April 1, 2021
After the video went viral on social media, Congress scion Priyanka Gandhi took to Twitter on Friday to cast aspersions about the credibility of the Election Commission (EC) and reignite the propaganda around ‘EVM tampering.’
In a tweet, she wrote, “Every time there is an election video of private vehicles caught transporting EVM’s show up. Unsurprisingly they have the following things in common: 1. The vehicles usually belong to BJP candidates or their associates. 2. The videos are taken as one off incidents and dismissed as aberrations. 3. The BJP uses its media machinery to accuse those who exposed the videos as sore losers.”
Priyanka Gandhi further added, “The fact is that too many such incidents are being reported and nothing is being done about them. The EC needs to start acting decisively on these complaints and a serious re-evaluation of the use of EVM’s needs to be carried out by all national parties.”
The Election Commission explanation
Following the series of allegations, the Election Commission issued a factual report on Friday. In its report, the EC clarified that a polling party comprising of a Presiding Officer and three polling personnel were returning in a convoy after the completion of polling at the polling booth at No 149- Indira MV School under the Ratabari constituency. They were being escorted by a constable and a homeguard. Since it was raining heavily, the roads had become muddy. Around 1300 vehicles were returning via National Highway (NHH)-8 after completion of the elections and it led to unprecedented traffic congestion.
In a sudden turn of events, the EC vehicle carrying the polling party from booth number 149 broke down while it was approaching Nilam Bazaar at around 9:00 pm in the night. “Due to the traffic congestion and the prevailing weather condition, the party became detached from its convoy. The party alighted from the vehicle and called the Sector Officer Sri Ajoy Sutradhar on his mobile and informed him. While the sector officer was arranging for an alternate 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 Election Commission emphasised.
EC issues factual report on incident involving EVM in Assam.— ANI (@ANI) April 2, 2021
Polling party 149-Indira MV School of LAC 1 Ratabari (SC) met with incident. Party comprised a Presiding Officer & 3 polling personnel. They were accompanied by police personnel comprising a constable & a homeguard:EC pic.twitter.com/irm3DEr6KV
The EC stated that the polling party then hailed and boarded a passing vehicle along without the polled EVMs, without verifying the ownership details of the car. They then reached Kanaishil in Karimganj at around 10 pm but had to slow down due to the traffic jam. Suddenly, they were ambushed and attacked by a mob of 50 people. The miscreants pelted stones, hurled abuses and stopped the vehicle from passing.
“When they asked the leader of the mob, he replied that it was the vehicle of Sri Krishnendu Paul who is a contesting candidate of a neighbouring constituency (Patharkandi LAC-2) and he levelled allegations that the EVM was being taken to be tampered with. It was only then that they realised that something was amiss and alerted the Sector Officer,” the nodal election body added. It said that by then, a larger mob had gathered and accused them of tampering with the EVMs.
On receiving information, the Data Entry Operator (DEO) of Karimganj reached the spot along with the Superintendent of Police (SP). The EC noted, “On arrival at the spot, it was observed that the crowd was pulling out the polling party and were about to assault them. The mob had turned violent and had damaged the glass of the vehicle by stone-pelting. During the course of the stone pelting, SP Karimganj sustained minor injuries on his collarbone and blank firing had to be resorted to disperse the mob. The first pollingofficer was found missing in the commotion, the EVM’s and the remaining polling party along were safely escorted from the area and taken into the control of the DEO at 2220 hrs.”
EVMs have not been tampered with
The EC examined the polled EVMs and found that the seals of VVPAT, BU and CU were intact. All the items were then deposited in a strong room. Meanwhile, a search operation was conducted to trace the first polling officer who had been hiding ever since the incident. He was traced on Friday (April 2) morning. The EC issued a show-cause notice to the Presiding Officer for violating the election body’s transport protocol.
Officials suspended, re-polling to take place in the concerned polling booth
The Election Commission has ordered the suspension of the four officials involved in the incidence for violating the transport protocol by travelling in an unauthorised vehicle. The poll panel has also announced repolling for the polling booth number 149, even though the EVMs were found no tampered with.
“Thereafter, the PO & 3 other officials have been placed under suspension. Although the seals of the EVM were found intact, it has nevertheless been decided to do a re-poll at No. 149- Indira M.V. School of LAC 1 Ratabari (SC) as added precaution. A report has also been sought from the Special Observer,” the EC statement said.
The four officials who have been suspended for violating the transport protocol of the EC are, Presiding Officer Sahab Uddin Talukdar, and Polling Officers Saurav Acharjee, Abdul Mumit Choudhury and Sahab Uddin Tapadar. Choudhury is a teacher at an Islamic elementary school, while the rest three are teachers at different schools.