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New Delhi: After the Uttarakhand Police summoned five jawans for allegedly tampering poll ballots at an army unit in Pithoragarh district, state Congress president Ganesh Godiyal has urged the Election Commission to conduct a repoll for all these votes in the presence of polling agents of various parties.
A few days after voting was over in the state, former Uttarakhand chief minister and Congress leader Harish Rawat, who was spearheading the campaign for the party, shared a video on his Twitter handle and tweeted in Hindi, “Sharing a short video for everyone’s information. It shows how one man at an army centre is ticking and signing several ballot papers. Will the Election Commission take cognisance of this?”
एक छोटा #वीडियो सबकी जानकारी के लिए वायरल कर रहा हूंँ, इसमें एक #आर्मी के सेंटर में किस प्रकार से एक ही व्यक्ति सारे #वोटों को टिक कर रहा है और यहां तक कि सभी लोगों के हस्ताक्षर भी वही कर रहा है, उसका एक नमूना देखिए, क्या इलेक्शन कमिशन इसका संज्ञान लेना चाहेगा?@UttarakhandCEO pic.twitter.com/yAd4UVPpLh
— Harish Rawat (@harishrawatcmuk) February 22, 2022
Uttarakhand – where 90,000 votes were cast using postal ballots on February 14 – has a large number of serving defence personnel. Therefore, these postal ballots become crucial in deciding the outcome of any election. The counting of votes will take place on March 10.
Talking to The Wire, Godiyal explained how the ballot system in the Army units works, in which the voters are required to download their votes using an OTP. “As some of them [the voters] are deployed in far-flung or remote areas, where they do not have proper access, the OTPs are sent to the unit in-charge by the electoral system and then all the postal ballots are downloaded,” he said.
He claimed that the OTPs are being used by the “personnel in the units to cast the vote for personnel posted elsewhere”. “So one person is casting the vote on behalf of all. We should not let this happen. One person cannot download everyone’s vote and tick it. This leaves scope for biased voting,” Godiyal said.
On February 27, the state police said it had identified and summoned five army jawans of the Kumaon regiment who were allegedly involved in the tampering of postal ballots in the Didihat constituency of Pithoragarh district. They have been asked to appear before the police in a week’s time.
As per media reports, the superintendent of police, Lokeshwar Singh, was quoted as saying, “This viral video is of four soldiers of two Kumaon regiments of the army. The video was made in Jammu. The person who sent and made the video is also a young man from Kumaon. The police have sent summons to all under Section 161 of the CrPC.”
Following this development, Godiyal had lodged a formal complaint with the state’s chief electoral officer and demanded a thorough investigation into the incident.
He told The Wire: “I had written a letter to urge the Election Commission to suspend the counting of all the postal ballots. I also demanded that a transparent process should be adopted for taking into account and counting all such postal ballots. I wrote that the current process is not transparent and after this video went viral, our suspicions are turning into a staunch belief (that the postal ballot voting was not properly conducted).”
The state Congress president, who had sent the letter to the Commission soon after the video went viral, said though he had written to the state chief electoral officer, he wanted the poll panel to take cognisance of the issue. However, he claimed that he has not received any response from the Commission on the matter so far.
Till February 12, two days before the polling day of February 14, 93,964 votes of the 94,771 registered service voters had been cast. Of these, 91,396 votes were of men and 2,568 of women. These postal ballots were reserved for police and defence personnel and also for the people who were on election duty.
The numbers game
With such a large number of postal ballots having been cast in the state, there was a need to look at the issue of misuse of the process more closely, Godiyal said. “In a small state like Uttarakhand, these votes can impact the outcome of an election in a very large number of seats.”
In Uttarakhand, around 40,000-50,000 votes are polled in every assembly segment on an average, and so, even if 2,000-3,000 votes are manipulated in each segment, it can make a huge difference.
“Here the margin of victory is usually in the hundreds or a few thousand and so this means a lot. In the 2017 assembly elections, there were five seats in which the margin of victory was less than a thousand votes and in 27 seats the margin was less than 5,000 votes,” he said.
“Our appeal to the Election Commission is that the postal ballot votes should not be considered as they have been rigged. Even if there is a delay in counting, a transparent approach should be adopted to have these votes cast properly and only then should they be counted,” Godiyal said.