CPM leaders at the Jantar Mantar demonstration on Wednesday. (PTI)
May 14: The Election Commission today ordered repolling for five fifth-phase booths, including three where malpractice had allegedly taken place, saying nothing beyond the number was required after scrutinising reports from observers.
The Opposition, which had demanded repolling for 800 booths, called the commission’s decision a “farce”. The CPM’s Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee dubbed “terribly criminal” the election observers’ role during Lok Sabha polls in Bengal. Biman Bose alleged that a “mockery of democracy” had taken place in the fifth phase on Monday, which witnessed the maximum violence.
“The commission has assessed and analysed observers’ scrutiny reports on each booth in the 17 constituencies. The commission does not think repolls are necessary beyond these five,” a senior poll panel official said from Delhi this evening.
A source in the Election Commission said one of the three Haroa booths in whose vicinity suspected Trinamul activists had launched a bomb-and-bullet attack during voting on Monday was among those where repolling had been ordered. Asked why repolling had not been ordered for all the three booths, the source said the observers had not felt the need in their reports.
Repolling has been ordered for booths 225 and 226 in Joynagar, 145 in Haroa, 82 in Ashoknagar and 253 in Hasnabad tomorrow. While the repolling in Haroa and Joynagar has been ordered for malpractice, ballots will be cast again in the Ashoknagar and Hasnabad booths because of EVM malfunction. EVM malfunctioning had been reported in Haroa’s booth 145, too.
The two Joynagar booths were allegedly captured by a Trinamul Congress leader and proxy votes were cast.
The Opposition has alleged that the ruling party resorted to “massive rigging” in the last three phases.
The Left, which today held a demonstration in front of Delhi’s Jantar Mantar to protest electoral violence, has demanded repolling for 3,200-odd booths in the three phases. The Congress and the BJP have demanded 1,500 and 600 repolls, respectively.
The commission had conducted repolls for 11 third-phase booths and none in the fourth phase.
A returning officer for North 24-Parganas wondered why the commission did not order repolling for more fifth-phase booths.
“The commission is displeased with the way things went in the last phase, where malpractice and violence were rampant despite the deployment of 500-odd companies of central forces. That is what we were told. Then why did it not order repolling for as many booths as necessary?” the officer asked.
The Opposition had alleged electoral malpractice at booths in Sason, Puturia, Khardah, Bhangar, Canning, Ghatal, Daspur, Debra, Pingla, Sabang, Khejuri, Patashpur, Haldia, Moyna, Keshpur and Nandigram.
Former chief minister Bhattacharjee today issued a statement condemning the role of the election observers. “What the observers have done is terribly criminal. They left the helpless people of this state to the violent attacks of the ruling party. Now they are acting like heroes, with smiling faces,” he said in the statement.
Left Front chairman Biman Bose wrote to chief election commission V.S. Sampath, demanding repolls and “rectification” of the “mockery of democracy” in the fifth phase.
Bose alleged lack of security cover in sensitive and highly sensitive booths, attacks on Opposition polling agents, violence by Trinamul, booth capturing, rigging and snatching of voter ID cards and slips.
“It was a one-sided match, with both the state administration and the ECI watching from the sidelines instead of stepping in for the sake of free and fair elections,” Bose wrote.
In another letter to Sampath later in the day, Bose apprehended that Trinamul could “vitiate” the counting process, a concern echoed by the Congress.
CPM state secretariat member Rabin Deb said the Left had lodged over 3,200 complaints over the five phases but repolling was ordered for only 16 booths. “The commission did not pay any heed to the Opposition’s complaints,” he added.
State Congress leader Pradip Bhattacharya alleged that the commission had “betrayed” the people’s faith. The MP said Bengal had witnessed one of the “most bloody and rigged” polls in recent history.
“Unfortunately, the Election Commission of India…. has failed to counter the conspiracy and hegemony of the ruling party,” Bhattacharya wrote in a letter to Nirvachan Sadan today, adding that unless the panel was proactive, Trinamul could “manipulate” the results too.
The commission said the “strictest” measures were already in place for the counting.
“Sixteen companies of central forces will be guarding the 48 counting venues (in Bengal). There will be 55 additional counting observers, besides 43 general observers. The EVMs are being guarded by central forces 24 hours a day. There is no scope of malpractice in counting,” a commission source said.
Left leaders such as Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yehury, A.B. Bardhan, Sudhakar Reddy and Debabrata Biswas took part in the Jantar Mantar protest today and alleged that voters were threatened and assaulted.
“We had informed the EC about possible rigging in polling booths two months ago but no preventive measures were taken. Voters were terrorised and intimidated. The entire state machinery connived to manipulate the elections,” CPM general secretary Karat alleged.
CPM politburo member Yechury said democracy was being hijacked in Bengal.
State Congress president Adhir Chowdhury met chief election commissioner Sampath today and submitted a list of 1,165 fifth-phase booths where he alleged malpractice.