EC Orders Repolling in Assam's Ratabari Seat After EVMs Found in BJP MLA's Car

The special armed escort and four others have been suspended after a video showing EVMs in Krishnendu Paul's Bolero car surfaced after the second phase of voting.

New Delhi: The Election Commission (EC) has ordered repolling at polling station number 149 of Ratabari seat in Assam after electronic voting machines (EVMs) were found in the car of BJP candidate Krishnendu Paul on Thursday night.

A video showing EVMs in Paul’s Bolero car in Karimganj surfaced after the second phase of voting concluded in the state on Thursday, causing a ‘tense’ situation around the area.

The EC acknowledged that there was a violation of transport protocol, and suspended the four officials who were responsible for transporting the EVMs. The presiding officer was issued a showcause notice for violation of protocol.

Late on Thursday, the Election Commission issued a statement noting that the armed escort officer was also suspended “for leaving behind the stranded polling party and not ensuring their safe arrival at destination”.

The Commission also said it has received the report of the Special General Observer, Assam. “There is otherwise no deliberate or malafide intention in the incident aimed to disrupt the polling process,” the report noted, according to EC. The report said the incident occurred “due to the total negligence and foolishness of the Presiding Officer and his team.”

Tension after discovery

News agency PTI, citing officials, said that the vehicle of the polling party of Indira MV School booth in the Ratabari constituency broke down on their way to the strong room in Karimganj town. Therefore, they decided to take a lift in a private vehicle.

“Incidentally, the vehicle was registered under the name of sitting BJP MLA from Patharkandi Krishnendu Paul,” an official of the district administration told PTI.

The Election Commission initially claimed that the officials were not aware of this fact, and realised it only later.

When the vehicle reached Nimal Bazar area, some members of the public spotted it and halted. After realising that EC officials and EVMs were being transported in a BJP candidate’s vehicle, they became suspicious and vandalised the vehicle. The polling party ran away, leaving behind the EVMs.

The police had to fire in the air to bring the situation under control, according to PTI.

The deputy commissioner and the superintendent of police then brought the EVMs to Patharkandi police station at night, from where it was taken and deposited at the strong room in Karimganj town, police sources told PTI.

The press release issued by the EC said that the polled EVM was found to be with its seal intact without any damage whatsoever.

Also read: Ground Report: In Upper Assam, Voters Are Torn Between Choosing a Candidate or a Party

“At about 2120 hours, the polling party hailed a passing vehicle and boarded it along with their EVM and other things without checking the ownership of the vehicle bearing the number AS-10B-0022. As reported by the polling party, they moved towards Karimganj and as they reached Kanaishil in Karimganj at about 2200 hours, they 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 EC press release said.

“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.”

Thirty-nine assembly seats went to the polls and a voter turnout of 73.03% was recorded till 6 pm.

The incident has caused outrage among opposition parties, with the Congress saying that it further erodes confidence in the poll body.

Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi said the EC should act decisively on such complaints and that a serious re-evaluation of the use of EVMs needs to be carried out by all national parties.

Congress leader Sushmita Dev also hit out at the BJP and demanded immediate disqualification of the candidate.

(With inputs from PTI)

Note: This article, originally published at 1.45 pm, was republished at 10 pm on April 2 after it was updated to include details on the Special General Observer’s report to the EC and the news of the suspension of the armed escort.