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Three Ladakh booths recorded over 100 per cent voting, turnout spike fuels foul-play cry

The booths that recorded more than 100 per cent voting on May 6 are in Zanskar subdivision, three others witnessed 100 per cent polling

Muzaffar Raina Srinagar Published 13.05.19, 12:58 AM
Rlection officers sit inside an empty polling booth during the second phase of the Lok Sabha elections, in Srinagar, on April 18, 2019.

Rlection officers sit inside an empty polling booth during the second phase of the Lok Sabha elections, in Srinagar, on April 18, 2019. (AP)

A pro-BJP appeal by religious bodies and unusually high turnouts in Buddhist-majority Zanskar have spawned a new controversy over the Ladakh Lok Sabha election, with the non-BJP candidates alleging bogus voting, undue religious influence and the intimidation of their polling agents.

Three booths recorded more than 100 per cent voting on May 6 in Zanskar subdivision — part of Muslim-majority Kargil district and home to over 8,000 largely Buddhist voters — and three others witnessed 100 per cent polling. Dozens of booths clocked turnouts over 90 per cent.

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Earlier on April 25, the non-BJP candidates say, two Buddhist organisations had appealed to Zanskar’s electorate to vote for the BJP and not to act as polling agents for the other candidates, threatening ex-communication if they did.

With “56 booths” bereft of non-BJP polling agents, Congress candidate Rigzin Spalbar said, “a lot of bogus votes were cast”.

Returning officer Avny Lavasa had on polling day written to the Kargil district election officer, Baseer-ul-Haq Choudhary, referring to a Congress complaint about “threats and social boycott messages given by Zanskar Buddhist Association and Zanskar Gonpa Association to members of society in Zanskar”.

“This appears to be a clear case of violation of the model code of conduct where religious factors are being used to exercise undue influence on the election process. You are therefore requested to look into the matter and take action…” Lavasa’s letter said.

The BJP has reportedly promised the two Buddhist associations a separate Zanskar district carved out of Muslim-majority Kargil.

Spalbar said he had complained to the Election Commission several times between April 26 and May 9, but the poll panel had not acted. Independent candidate Sajjad Hussain lodged a complaint on May 11. Asghar Ali Karbalai, another Independent, supports the allegations.

Two other controversies have vitiated the Ladakh election. The Leh Press Club has alleged a bribery attempt by BJP leaders seeking favourable pre-poll coverage. The non-BJP candidates have complained about army jawans being asked to reveal their voting preferences to their commanding officers over the phone instead of casting their postal ballots themselves.

Lavasa on Saturday gave the army a clean chit after writing to it on Friday to “sensitise” its officers and maintain the sanctity of the poll process. The army had written to her that its own investigation had found no substance in the charges.

Spalbar said the average turnout in Zanskar was an “unprecedented” 95 per cent.

Every vote counts in Ladakh, he said, where the BJP had won by just 36 votes in 2014. Around 71 per cent, or 1.23 lakh voters, cast their votes in Ladakh this time, he said, and Zanskar’s 8,000 votes could turn the tide in anybody’s favour.

Choudhary, the district election officer, however, said that turnouts marginally over 100 per cent — as witnessed in three Zanskar booths — did not necessarily signify malpractice, because polling personnel were allowed to vote at the booths where they were deployed.

He admitted that several booths had polling agents from only one party but said no non-BJP candidate had given him any written complaint about specific agents being prevented from manning booths by specific accused.

“If they say there are people in a mohalla (doing this), how many people in a mohalla (neighbourhood) will I arrest?” he said.

The BJP’s Ladakh minder, Vikram Randhawa, booked on Thursday over charges of trying to bribe journalists in Leh, dismissed the rivals’ allegations about the intimidation of polling agents. He said the allegations reflected the rivals’ fear of losing.

The BJP candidate is Tsering Namgyal.

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