On May 13, Nana Naukare, a farmer who lives in the Maharashtrian city of Parli, went to his designated polling booth in Sharda Nagar’s Vivek Vardhini primary school to cast his vote. His finger was inked but before he could reach the ballot machine, he was asked to leave by “some men who were not election officers”. “Dhakke maar ke nikal diya,” he told Scroll. They pushed me out of the booth.

Naukare said he did not make more attempts to get to the ballot machine fearing for the safety of his family. “My family and I left,” he said, adding that an election officer was present on the spot but could do nothing. “We did not want to take any risk.”

Several voters across Parli, one of six assembly segments in Beed Lok Sabha constituency, recounted similar experience of being denied their right to vote to Scroll. Opposition workers alleged that voters were threatened by party workers of the Mahayuti alliance – the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Ajit Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party.

Bajrang Sonawane, a leader of the Nationalist Congress Party (Sharadchandra Pawar) who standing for election from Beed, in a letter to Election Commission alleged that booths in 33 villages in Parli assembly, three villages in Kaij assembly and two in Majalgaon assembly segment were captured – that is, either many voters were turned away or their fingers inked without allowing them to cast their vote or bogus votes were cast.

“The first call I received was from a Muslim woman in Dharmapuri at 9 am,” Sonawane said. “She said her finger was inked and somebody else cast a vote on her behalf.” Dharmapuri, he added, has around 1,000 Muslim voters.

Sonawane, a candidate of the Opposition INDIA bloc, is taking on Pankaja Munde, a former BJP legislator from Parli in this election.

On May 13, Sonawane filed a complaint with the Election Commission and demanded a repoll in certain booths of Parli, Majalgaon and Kaij. The complaint also stated that Muslims in Dharmapuri village and voters from backward class in Jirewadi village were not allowed to vote.

The Maharashtra Chief Election Commissioner asked the district election officer to submit a report within 48 hours. Sonawane submitted a dozen-odd videos to the Election Commission as proof, he said. Scroll has seen a copy of the complaint as well as the videos submitted to the Election Commission.

The district electoral officer – the Beed collector – sent a report to the Election Commission stating that a repoll was not required.

“Whatever videos have been submitted to us do not show instances of booth capturing,” Deepa Munde, the district collector, told Scroll. “It only shows crowding in some booths.”

Asked about the allegations of voters, Munde said her inquiry was limited to scrutinising the videos submitted by the Nationalist Congress Party (Sharad Pawar) faction and questioning the polling officers appointed by the Election Commission. “The polling officers reported no malpractice,” she said.

According to collector Munde, about 50% of booths were webcast – that is, video footage of voters entering and voting in the booths were live-streamed to the control rooms of the district election officer, the returning officer and the chief election officer. “But we cannot check the webcast,” Munde claimed. “The register of voters and recording of webcasts are part of statutory records which we cannot access right now without the Election Commission’s permission.”

However, the Election Commission’s guidelines say that the district election officer – in this case, the collector – is the custodian of the webcast records. If there is a complaint about voting, the officer can view the footage the day after the election.

Munde did not clarify why she could not view the webcast recording.

Sonawane said he would approach the court if a repoll was not announced.

Opposition workers said the BJP is up against an anti-incumbency sentiment despite its enviable record in Beed Lok Sabha constituency. The party has won the seat in all Lok Sabha elections since 1996 (except once in 2004 when the Nationalist Congress Party won) with support from both Marathas and OBCs.

But this time, the demand for Maratha reservations, especially from Marathwada region of which Beed is a part of, has disrupted that vote base. The Maratha community is angry with the BJP for not doing enough to help it obtain its demands, while Other Backward Classes voters are afraid that their reservation benefits will be dented if the Maratha quota is granted.

Beed has about 1.15 lakh OBC voters, over one lakh Marathas, about 31,000 Dalits and 43,000 Muslims, according to estimates shared by Opposition leaders. The Vanjari community, an OBC group to which Pankaja Munde belongs, with 64,000 voters also form a significant bloc. Several administrative officers in Beed come from this community.

“We expect the vote share of BJP to fall in Beed since one family has remained in power for many years and has done little for the people,” said Devrao Lugade, an Nationalist Congress Party (Sharad Pawar) leader in Parli. “There is anger against the Mundes, especially in Parli from where the family comes.”

Sonawane said the party had anticipated trouble from BJP workers. On May 7, he had written to the Election Commission to demand video recording of what he believed were vulnerable booths.

Asked about the allegations of booth capturing, Pankaja Munde said: “I believe the law and the Constitution are above all. If there are complaints, there are authorities to investigate. But [it is improper] to release some videos that are not credible and saying this is booth capturing in Beed. TV channels too are running stories without investigating properly. I am seeking legal advice on that.”

Credit: Pankaja Gopinath Munde @Pankajamunde/X.

Voters inked but not allowed to vote

On May 13, Kantabai Gutte went to a primary school near her home in Nandnaj village in Maharashtra’s Beed district to cast her vote.

At the polling booth inside the primary zilla parishad school in Dharmapuri village, the elderly Maratha woman saw four men standing near the EVM. “When she went towards the machine, a man quickly pressed a button and said her vote had been cast,” said her daughter Sushama Andhare, who is a political worker with the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray) unit in Pune.

Gutte, her daughter said, protested and pressed several other buttons in the machine hoping to cancel the vote cast by the man in her name. “She argued with the election officials and asked for a fresh vote,” Andhare said. “But they did not listen. She could not cast a vote after that.”

Andhare said that when she wrote a Facebook about this. she received a call from BJP workers who pressured me to remove it. “I hid the post from public view because my mother lives in that village and I was away in Pune,” she said.

Later that day, Andhare came across several videos from Parli where voters claimed they had been denied their right to vote, she told Scroll.

Unlike Gutte, in Parli city, advocate Satish Deshmukh was able to vote at a government health facility that had been converted into a polling station. But he said he saw several other voters being inked and forced to leave. “They were targeting everyone, Muslim, Dalit, even OBCs and Marathas,” he said.

From Jalalpur village, Arun Sapate had gone to his designated polling booth inside a nearby school to cast his vote with his wife and parents.

“Some goons were drunk and standing outside the booth,” Sapate said. “I recognised one of them. He slapped me and asked me to leave. The police were there but they did nothing.”

Sapate, a Maratha shopkeeper, said several people from his village were unable not cast their votes. “The entire democratic process has failed here,” he said. “We did not want to risk our life. So I left.”

Sapate said several from his community are angry with the BJP-Shinde government for its inability to implement reservations for Marathas, a long-pending demand of the poor sections of the otherwise-dominant community.

Polling agents beaten up

In several areas in Parli Assembly constituency, polling agents and workers of the Opposition flagged violence or forced voting.

Opposition workers alleged that many booths were captured in strongholds of Parli legislator Dhananjay Munde, such as Dharmapuri, Injegaon, Nagapur, and Parli Vaijnath city.

Dhananjay belongs to the Ajit Pawar faction of Nationalist Congress Party and is a cousin of BJP candidate Pankaja Munde. The BJP and Nationalist Congress Party (Ajit Pawar) are fighting the election as allies.

“People are scared of upsetting local leaders in this area,” a local journalist told Scroll. “They hold a lot of power.”

Muktaram Gawli, a polling agent for the Nationalist Congress Party (Sharadchandra Pawar), told Scroll that he saw BJP workers trying to capture the booth at a zilla parishad school in Injegaon on May 13 morning.

He said he was beaten up when he opposed them. “It began at 9 am and continued till late afternoon,” he said. “Election officials did not help me.”

BJP volunteers were either accompanying voters to the ballot machine and telling them which button to press or sometimes pressing the button themselves, Gawli said. “This was a clear attempt to stop Dalits like us from voting,” he said.

Gawli, a supporter of Nationalist Congress Party candidate Sonawane, said the area under Injegaon has around 1,800 voters. Of them, the majority are OBC and Marathas. About 200 to 250 are Dalits. He said Dalits were specifically targeted in his area.

At one point, Gawli said he decided to go live on social media to record everything but a police official stopped him from doing this.

The booth where Gawli was positioned as a polling agent was being webcast, he claimed. “I don’t know if election officials have seen the footage,” he said.

Another polling agent of the Nationalist Congress Party (Sharadchandra Pawar), Shankar Shezur was positioned in Kanerwadi village’s booth number 200. There were four booths in his village. Shezur said till 5 pm, voting in his booth went smoothly. “After 5 pm, BJP workers got a bunch of Aadhaar cards of several deceased voters and began to cast votes,” he said.

Both he and a election officer objected, he said. “I was threatened and forced to leave the booth,” he said, adding that he continues to face threats to his life for protesting against bogus voting.

He said the collector’s office did not approach him to record his statement and neither has he visited the collector's office to register a complaint.

Shashikant Baban Gitte, a Nationalist Congress Party leader in Parli, said he visited at least three booths in Dharmapuri at which voters were inked and then asked to leave. “A group of men stood at the ballot machine and cast votes on their behalf,” Gitte said.

In a video purportedly shot at a polling station in Helamb village, Gitte is arguing with election officers on how they could permit others to cast votes on behalf of voters.

Collector Munde said she saw these videos but it “could not prove any tampering of the election process”.

Gitte claimed: “It was clear that they [those who captured the booths] had support of the administration and police.”

Nationalist Congress Party leader and Sharad Pawar’s nephew, Rohit Pawar, told Scroll that the entire election process has been compromised in Parli. “Several of our party workers have managed to shoot videos,” he said. “All these videos have been submitted to the authorities.”

Local activist from Beed city, Satyabhama, said while she heard about several instances of booth capturing in Parli, very few villagers were willing to speak about it.

“There is widespread fear amongst people in rural areas,” Satyabhama said. “Their livelihood depends on these politicians and they don’t want to get on the wrong side.”