The Election Commission has denied reports that it had discovered three lakh bogus voters in Varanasi, the constituency represented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Instead they say that there are 6.47 lakh repeated names.

On Tuesday, the Navbharat Times reported that 3,11,057 fake voters had been discovered in Varanasi, where Modi had won by a margin of 3,71,784 votes. This report was subsequently picked up by other news organisations, including Aaj Tak.

“The person who reported this has understood it in a wrong perspective,” said RK Pandey, additional Chief Electoral Officer with the state election commission of Uttar Pradesh. “The reporter has understood that these are repeated voters, but they are actually just repeated names.”

The source of Navbharat Times report seems to be a post on the Aam Aadmi Party’s Facebook page, where it played up a story from the Varanasi Jagran. AAP is not entirely to blame – the Varanasi Jagran was not clear in its report about who or what the duplicate voters were that the commission had found.

Bogus identities or shared names?

The UP election commission is currently undertaking an annual revision and verification of its rolls, one part of which is running the list through a software to show duplicate names that need to be physically verified.

In Varanasi, for instance, the commission has found 6.47 lakh duplicated names, all of which are repeated at least once across the state. Pandey said, however, that these are not all necessarily fake entries in the rolls. They could be people who share a name.

“For instance, a ‘Rajesh, son of Ramesh’, might be found several times in UP,” he said. “We are in the process of checking whether these people are same or different.”

The state’s election officers will submit a complete report on the process by January 5.

This year, the commission has found 98 lakh names repeated at least once across UP, as opposed to 91 lakh repeated names in 2013. Both figures are roughly 7% of the total UP electorate in that year.

Of the 91 lakh repeated names last year, 19.62 lakh names were deleted after verification, leaving 71.38 repeated names on the list. This includes those who had either moved or died. Thirty five lakh names were deleted in all.

There has therefore been a surge of 26 lakh repeated names across UP from last year to this. Pandey attributed this to the 1.25 crore new voters registered in UP between October 2013 and May 2014.

However, even if there are fake names in the rolls, as there are bound to be, the election commission has no existing mechanism to verify how many of the deleted names cast their votes in intervening elections.

All deletions not genuine

As in instances across the country, UP’s deleted names of 2013 include several people who were in fact genuine long- time voters and were unable to vote in the general election. One of these is Sanjay Asthana, a retired journalist.

“Each election, 24,000 or 25,000 people are found to be fake voters,” he said. “There are lots of names cut from and added to the list. All parties do this.”

He pointed out that there are different rolls between corporation, state and national elections and suggested that there should be only one list.

“If you are making people vote compulsorily, then at least you should make sure the rolls are correct and that genuine voters are not cut off,” Asthana said. “Perhaps since this has happened in Modi’s constituency, people will try to fix this problem.”