An official checks sealed EVMs at the strongroom in Ranchi on Friday. Picture by Prashant Mitra
Ranchi, April 18: An ugly spat involving parties over unused EVMs in the car of a government officer last night prompted her to file an FIR today against a candidate who was among those who allegedly heckled her.
Angara circle officer-cum-block development officer Deepmala, deputed as a poll magistrate, was allegedly manhandled by some JVM supporters, led by their Ranchi candidate Amitabh Choudhary, when she had stopped at Khel Gaon around 9pm to verify complaints of EVM tampering.
A crowd comprising members of various political parties gathered around her car, curious about the EVMs in it. Some of those present asked her what was she doing at Khel Gaon when the EVMs were ought to be present at Pandra Bazaar Samiti-based strongroom.
They also accused her of trying to tamper with the EVMs kept inside the car and rig the polls in favour of a particular candidate.
Officer-in-charge of Tatisilwai B.N. Singh, who reached the spot after getting news of the commotion, was also manhandled by the mob.
“She (Deepmala) lodged the FIR this afternoon. The sections under which the FIR was lodged include 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of duty) and 354 (assault or criminal force to women with intent to outrage her modesty),” said superintendent of police (city) Anup Birthare.
Apart from Choudhary, two JVM workers, Amit Mahto and Santosh, two other persons and 150 unidentified people figure in the complaint filed at Sadar police station this afternoon.
Birthare added that Tatisilwai OC B.N. Singh had also given a written complaint, which might be converted into an FIR.
Deputy commissioner and returning officer for Ranchi Vinay Kumar Choubey defended Deepmala, saying he had sent her to Khel Gaon to check reports of tampering of EVMs.
“I had information that some people were trying to tamper with EVMs in Rahe and Silli and had sent her there to look into the matter. However, she found the information to be false and was returning with unused EVMs when I told her to verify similar complaints at Khel Gaon,” he said.
He alleged that the entire ruckus was pre-planned.
“The crowd that assembled at Khel Gaon to harass her was armed with loudspeakers,” he said.
According to police, the crowd misbehaved with her, took away the car’s keys and even assaulted her.
By then, BJP’s Ranchi candidate Ram Tahal Choudhary and Trinamul Congress’s Bandhu Tirkey had also arrived at the spot.
The tension was defused around 11.30pm only after police resorted to a mild lathi-charge, in which Choudhary and Ram Tahal were injured.
In morning, before Deepmala had filed her FIR, Choudhary had claimed that the administration’s role was “highly suspicious”.
“Why were the EVMs in a vehicle at Khel Gaon. They should have been at Pandra strongroom, right?” he had asked while speaking to a section of the media in the morning.
State chief electoral officer P.K. Jajoria, who also visited Khel Gaon last night, clarified that EVMs were not used in polling and that the violence that followed was a result of a misunderstanding.
“Six of the machines were not even opened, while the remaining three had developed some technical snags and had been exchanged by the magistrate. I simply cannot understand why such a hue and cry was made last night,” he told The Telegraph today.
“I had even met JVM candidate Amitabh Choudhary, who was satisfied that there was nothing wrong,” Jajoria, who conducted an on-the-spot inquiry between 10.30pm and 11pm, added.
The state BJP has, however, demanded a judicial inquiry, alleging that the Ranchi district administration was trying to rig the polls in the favour of a certain candidate.
“We demand a judicial inquiry. District officials and Election Commission are trying to hush up the matter. We have reports that a good number of EVMs used during polling in Ranchi were first brought at Khel Gaon and then to the Pandra strongroom,” Ram Tahal said at a news meet today.
Ranchi BJP MLA C.P. Singh, who was also present at the news conference, alleged that the Choubey was playing in the hands of the Congress.
“Choubey is acting as a Congress agent. Good if he joins the Congress. But despite all rigging attempts, the BJP is going to win the Ranchi seat,” Singh said.
He further alleged that the returning officer and Ranchi SSP deployed security forces in such a way so that the Congress could benefit the most.
“The EC should release the list of deployments made at the booths. At some polling stations, EVMs were not working and were replaced after a long time. When I informed the matter to returning officer and told him that I suspected foul play, he said that the BJP always interpreted things with a conspiracy angle,” Singh said.
The Congress has also demanded a high-level inquiry by an independent agency.
A delegation of Jharkhand Pradesh Congress Committee met Jajoria today and submitted a memorandum, claiming t the role of JVM’s Choudhary and BJP’s Ram Tahal in the entire episode was dubious.