In Mathura’s Gali Ahiran, ahead of the second phase of the Lok Sabha election on April 26, not one of the nine voters in the family of 74-year-old Jamrul Nisha received a voter slip. “This happened for the first time,” said her husband, Mohammad Sabir.

A voter slip is a document issued to registered voters before an election by the Election Commission of India. It is a confirmation of the voter’s registration and provides information on where and when to cast their vote.

The absence of the slip did not deter Jamrul Nisha, a voter in Mathura parliamentary constituency. On polling day, she went to the polling booth, found her name in the roll, got a voter slip – but still could not vote. “In the booth, they said that my name in their list was only mentioned as ‘Jamrul’, not ‘Jamrul Nisha’,” she said.

This is an odd inconsistency because the electoral roll on the Election Commission website mentions Jamrul Nisha’s full name. “I tried to reason with them,” she added, “but the police officers there taunted me, saying ‘Aren’t you too old to stand here and argue all day?’ So I left.”

At 49.4%, the Mathura parliamentary constituency recorded its lowest turnout in two decades — a significant drop from 60.7% in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and 64% in 2014, excluding postal ballot votes. It also has the lowest turnout among the 16 constituencies in Uttar Pradesh that have voted in the ongoing elections so far.

The low turnout comes amidst claims by Muslim voters that they could not vote for a host of reasons: the poor distribution of voter slips, missing or misspelt names in the electoral roll at the polling station, and hurdles in getting voter IDs issued.

By contrast, almost all Hindu residents of the city Scroll spoke to said that they did not face such problems. Moolchand, 47, who lives right opposite Sabir and Jamrul’s house in Gali Ahiran, received voter slips for all six family members before the election.

In Chaubiyapada, a Brahmin-dominant neighbourhood in the city, residents said that they could locate their names on the roll and vote seamlessly.

Scroll sent queries about the allegations to the Election Commission of India. The story will be updated if they respond.

‘Our names were not on the roll’

The temple town of Mathura, 170 km from Delhi, is a stronghold of the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is part of the Mathura parliamentary constituency that voted actor Hema Malini to the Lok Sabha with huge majorities in 2014 and 2019. Malini is contesting from the constituency for the third time this year, against Congress candidate Mukesh Dhangar and Bahujan Samaj Party’s Suresh Singh.

Since 2022, the town has been in the headlines over the Shahi Idgah mosque, which Hindu supremacists claim stands on the birthplace of deity Krishna. They have sought to legally bar Muslims from praying there.

According to the 2011 census, Muslims form 8.5% of the population in Mathura district. In the town, their share doubles to 17.2%.

Right opposite the Shahi Idgah mosque is Deeg Gate, where Mohammad Sabu, 62, runs a shop that collects brassware and sells them to local manufacturing firms. “I could not vote this time,” Sabu told me on Saturday morning, a day after Mathura went to polls. “The manager at the polling station said that my name is not on the roll. For 30 minutes, he went through files but couldn’t find my name.”

Mathura resident Mohammad Sabu (left) said he could not find his name in the electoral roll. Shabbir Ali (right) said four members of his family faced similar problems.

Sabu has voted at the local Jain Ideal Junior High School for most of his life. “This has never happened in a Lok Sabha or a Vidhan Sabha election before,” he added. “We have five voters in my family. But only three of us could vote.”

Shabbir Ali, 65, who often transports the brass from Sabu’s shop to his customers, faced similar hurdles at his polling station in Mathura’s Govindpur. “We have eight voters in our family,” he said. “But two of my daughters and two sons could not find their names in the list. We went to the polling station at 8 am and spent an hour looking for their names. The roll seemed all mixed up.”

Muslims are numerically strong in the neighbourhoods surrounding the Shahi Idgah mosque in Mathura. Their votes are largely split between the Jayant Chaudhary-led Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Indian National Congress. The RLD, which joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance earlier this year, is not contesting Mathura this time. So voters here largely support the Congress.

In Gali Ahiran, which has both Hindu and Muslim residents, Scroll found that more Muslim voters reported not finding their names on the electoral roll on April 26 than the Hindus.

Three out of seven voters in the family of Sayeed Faruqui, 76, a cook, had to return uninked from the Navin Kanya Pathshala polling station on Friday. But Kailash, 28, a daily wager, said that all five voters in his family could cast their vote at the same booth.

Shahira Bano, 40, said that while she and her husband could vote, three of her children, aged 19, 20 and 24, were missing from the roll at the Pathshala, despite them having voter IDs. Across the street, 47-year-old fruit vendor Bablu Qureshi said that only his parents could vote, but he, his brother and three sisters could not.

Three houses down the street, 45-year-old Jagwati and her 30-year-old son Pappu faced no hitches while voting at the Pathshala. Neither did their neighbours Radheshyan, 75, and his wife. The only Hindu family in Gali Ahiran that complained of missing names was of Ramesh Chand, 62, who makes silver anklets for a living. “My wife and I could vote easily, but the names of our three children were not in the roll,” he said

The families of Jagwati and Radheshyam in Gali Ahiran voted on Friday.

Shehzad Baig, 50, a Congress functionary in Gali Ahiran, had deployed a booth observer at the Pathshala on Friday. Polling data collected by the observer shows that the polling centre recorded a turnout of 45.6%.

According to the Election Commission’s Turnout app, the Mathura Assembly constituency, which includes the entire town, recorded a turnout of 46.25% on Friday – the lowest among the the five assembly segments in the Mathura parliamentary constituency, which in turn recorded the lowest turnout in UP so far at 49.4%.

In the neighbouring Aligarh constituency, the turnout on Friday was 56.9%.

Baig’s two sons, both 22, could not vote either. “I applied for a voter ID for both of them,” he told me. “One of them didn’t get one. The other got it but his name did not appear on the roll at the polling station.”

Congress functionary Shehzad Baig goes through his personal copy of the electoral roll in Gali Ahiran.

Baig laid the blame on booth level officers, or BLOs, who are employed by the Election Commission of India and are tasked with distributing voter information slips before an election, and assisting voters in procuring and updating their voter IDs. He was not the only one to make this case.

‘If voter IDs have been invalidated from above, how is it my fault?’

A kilometre ahead of Deeg Gate and Gali Ahiran, Muslim voters in Manoharpura and Nai Basti faced similar problems. Abrar Qureshi, the municipal councillor in Manoharpura, also blamed BLOs for not doing their jobs.

“Many voters in my area were not on the list,” he said. “Such things happened before but on a smaller scale. This time, at least 40% of them did not even receive their voter information slips, which the BLOs are supposed to distribute. Shame on them.”

Booth-level officers and district administration officials denied the charges. “Wherever there was an issue with BLOs, we directed them to quickly address the issue,” said Vaibhav Gupta, the subdivisional magistrate of the town. He is also its electoral registration officer, to whom BLOs report. “We will have to investigate if there are other cases.”

Sarvesh, a BLO in Manoharpura, told Scroll that he had the task of distributing voting slips to a thousand people in his booth this year. “I distributed around 900 of them,” he said. “I could not find around 100 voters because many of them were Hindu families who had moved out and mostly Muslim residents replaced them. These new residents would have to get their names from their former neighbourhood removed first to get voter slips here. Similarly, their names would not appear on the neighbourhood’s roll.”

However, this does not explain why some members in a family would find their names on the roll and others wouldn’t.

Another Manoharpura BLO, Vakeel Ahmad, said that he had been meticulous about distributing voter slips before the election.

Vandana, a BLO in Gali Ahir, where voters are assigned the Pathshala as their polling centre, told me that the problem is not at the level of the BLO. “I distributed voter slips till 9 pm before elections,” she said. “People in the neighbourhood accused me of invalidating their voter IDs. I told them if they had been invalidated from above, how is it my fault? I’ve put in an application to remove myself as a BLO.”

Abrar Qureshi, municipal councillor in Manoharpura, blamed booth level officers for the difficulties in voting.

Distrust of EVMs?

In Nai Basti, Zulfiqar Qureshi, 54, an RLD functionary, painted a broader picture. “It is true that many Muslims here could not vote this time, but it is also true that many of them did not vote,” he said. “The opposition parties carried out no door-to-door campaign in the run-up to the elections in our neighbourhood. It’s as if they know that they are going to lose.”

Qureshi added that the suspicion over EVMs is high among Muslims – a phenomenon seen across western UP. “People here say that even if they vote for the opposition, the ruling party will manipulate the machines and overturn the result in their favour,” he said. “So many did not vote for that reason.”

Then Qureshi returned to the moot point. “Few months ago, the BLOs here announced a drive to issue and update voter IDs,” he said. “I applied for one for my elder son, Junaid, but he never got it. I asked the BLO why this happened and she did not have an answer. She only said that she had done everything from her end.”

The RLD functionary added that BLOs have always been sloppy in Muslim neighbourhoods. “But earlier, one or two per cent of voters were affected by it,” he said. “This time, 15-20% of voters in Nai Basti could not vote because of it.”

Suspicion of EVMs and the lack of an Opposition campaign could have led to lower turnout among Muslim voters in Mathura, said local leaders..

In Chaubia Pada, a Brahmin-dominant locality adjacent to Manoharpura, I spoke to a dozen residents whether they were able to vote on Friday. All of them said that they and their families voted without any hitch. Except one. “My sister-in-law did not get her voting slip so she did not go to the polling station,” said 47-year-old Pradeep Chaturvedi. “But 11 other members were able to vote. We all voted for the BJP.”

All photographs by Ayush Tiwari.