Election 2014

How free and fair are the world’s biggest elections?

The Election Commission would like to have you believe that poll rigging and booth capturing are history. But this election has seen plenty of both.

Is the electoral process in India truly free and fair? Given that polling proceeds peacefully in most of the country despite the overwhelming logistics of exercise, that's largely true. In fact, the Election Commission wants India's 814 million voters to believe that polling is entirely controversy-free.

“Booth capturing and other poll violations are history,” said SY Quraishi, former chief election commissioner of India, as he listed for Scroll.in a slew of measures that the EC has been taking over the past decade to ensure smooth elections. “Before the polls, through vulnerability mappings, we ensure that suspicious characters are arrested in advance, pending non-bailable warrants are executed and legal and illegal arms are deposited with the police,” he said. “During the polls, paramilitary forces are deployed throughout the country, cameras are placed at all booths and if there is any suspicion or complaint of unfair polling, each case is looked into and a re-poll is ordered.”

However, the headlines emerging from election coverage across the country tell a slightly different story. For one, booth capturing is evidently not history. There have been complaints of proxy voting, and voter turnouts greater than 100%. There are thousands of complaints about names missing from the voter’s list, which some voters suspect might be politically motivated. In several cases, re-elections have already been conducted.

What is true, though, is that these violations have been brought to light by the EC's staff and cameras, which has allowed them to be dealt with swiftly.

Here are some of the poll violations India has seen during the ongoing general election 2014.

Uttar Pradesh: This week, the EC announced re-polling at five centres in UP’s Firozabad and Etawah constituencies, after receiving several complaints about booth capturing, bogus voting and intimidation of voters. The constituencies happen to be Samajwadi Party strongholds, and Bharatiya Janata party candidate VK Singh alleged on April 10 that SP workers had threatened his booth agent in Ghaziabad.

Meanwhile in Rampur, where polling was held on April 17, police arrested two miscreants for booth capturing. The two were allegedly part of a larger group of 30 to 40 people who took over the polling centre and voted at the booths themselves. Last week, the EC declared the voting at those poll centres null and void.

Assam: The Guwahati Lok Sabha constituency had to have a re-election on Monday after a team of polling officials were caught rigging the exercise. At one booth, a village defence party member Bimal Boro could be seen on CCTV camera accompanying voters right up to the voting machine and “guiding” them as they voted. After a local news channel aired the footage, the whole polling team was arrested, along with Boro. The six are now in judicial custody.

Nagaland: More than 40 polling stations in Nagaland, which voted on April 9, recorded a voter turnout of more than 100%. At many booths, the turnout was more than 90%. On April 24, armed with video clips and photographs, local Congress leaders filed a complaint with the chief election commissioner alleging proxy voting and poll rigging in about 1,000 of the state’s 2,049 polling stations. The ruling party, Naga People’s Front, has dismissed these allegations.

Haryana: Although the Mewat district in Haryana saw a 78% voter turnout, very few residents had inked fingers to display after voting on April 10. There have been widespread allegations of booth capturing, poll rigging, bogus voting and of voters – particularly women and dalits – being prevented from entering poll booths by local goons. Most of this allegedly took place with the complicity of the police and polling staff. The EC is now studying these cases, although Mewat locals claim such violations have been common practice in the region during every election.

Maharashtra: Newspapers reported widely on Instances of names going missing from the voters’ list in Mumbai, but there is still no conclusive figure of how many eligible voters could not cast their votes on April 24. While some reports say thousands found their names deleted, others claim up to 200,000 Mumbaiites were denied the chance to vote. Across the state, six million voters are said to have been taken off the list. Pune, which voted on April 17, also saw complaints of mass deletions from the voters’ list. Although a preliminary report from the Pune collector’s office revealed that only 1,200 of the deletions were genuine cases, the furore around the missing names forced election commissioner HS Brahma to apologise to voters in Mumbai and Pune.

Rajasthan: This week, the Times of India reported multiple instances of proxy voting in Dausa, Rajasthan, where poll officials are said to have accompanied voters into the polling booth, pressing the button for them. They were seen to be doing this largely for illiterate women who did not know how to operate the EVM.

Odisha: In Odisha’s Kendrapada district, too, TV footage of a polling booth showed a man “assisting” women voters to press a button on the EVM, while a polling official looked on. The official was suspended this week and other polling officers and agents at the centre are also being probed.

Madhya Pradesh: When several constituencies went to the polls on April 17, two reports of booth capturing were reported. Miscreants from the Chambal valley allegedly took over two polling centres in Sagar constituency, cast several votes and threatened poll officials. The police are yet to trace the absconding poll violators.

Jharkhand: Dalits attempting to cast their votes in Gardih village in Koderma constituency on April 10 were allegedly beaten up by upper-caste Bhumihars. The dalit were attempting to vote for the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) while the Bhumihars were BJP supporters.

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