As the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party trade allegations over the recovery of nearly 10,000 voter identity cards from a house in Bengaluru days ahead of the May 12 Assembly elections in Karnataka, two former chief election commissioners have expressed concern over the incident. They said that though the Election Commission has made similar seizures in the past, those were on a much smaller scale.

On May 8, officers of the Election Commission raided an apartment in the Jalahalli locality of Bengaluru’s Rajarajeshwari Nagar constituency and seized 9,896 Electoral Photo Identification Cards. They also found more than one lakh counterfoils resembling acknowledgment slips of form 6, which is used for the inclusion of new names onto the electoral rolls.

The following day, Karnataka’s Chief Election Officer Sanjiv Kumar said that the seized voter identity cards were genuine, thus puncturing theories that the seized cards were part of an attempt to manipulate voting with fake voters.

While there is still a buzz that the episode could be the result of an attempt by one political party to bribe voters and dissuade them from casting votes in favour of its rival, as of Thursday evening there were no concrete leads.

The news has triggered a bitter battle between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. While the BJP has accused the ruling Congress of electoral fraud, alleging that visiting cards and stickers of an incumbent Congress MLA were found in the apartment, the Congress responded saying that the whole episode had been enacted by the BJP to discredit the party.

‘Unprecedented seizure’

TS Krishnamurthy, who was the Chief Election Commissioner of India during the 2004 Lok Sabha Polls, said that it appeared that the perpetrators were seeking some sort of commitment from the voters whose voter identity cards they had seized. “However, there are many possibilities concerning this case which should be probed by the Election Commission thoroughly,” he said.

Krishnamurthy added that the recovery of voter identity cards at such a scale was unprecedented.

Former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami concurred. “We have never come across such a case before and it needs to be probed with urgency,” he said.

Gopalaswami, who headed the Election Commission between 2006 and 2009, debunked the conspiracy theories that the Jalahalli seizures had triggered. “It is a tough case to speculate on,” he said. “The theories that are causing noise do not make much sense.”

He explained that one assumption – that a political party seized people’s voter identity cards after bribing them, as part of an attempt to ensure that they did not cast their vote – was flawed because of two reasons. One, it was not possible for any one party to pull off such an exercise without the rival party coming to know of it. Second, people without voter identity cards can still go ahead and cast their votes if they carried other identity documents recognised by the Election Commission.