The Election Commission on Friday told Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge that his letter to the Opposition parties alleging discrepancies in voter turnout data reflected a “biased and deliberate attempt to spread confusion on credibility of the electoral steps”.

“Utterances from president of national political party attacking the very credibility of the electoral steps and processes can have a negative impact on voter participation and can be seen as a means to deter an elector from exercising their franchise and/or demoralising the huge number of election staff and machinery which is mainly drawn from the respective State Governments,” the poll body said.

The Election Commission said that Kharge’s allegations bordered on “vitiating the constitutionally mandated work of ECI”.

On Tuesday, Kharge had, in a letter to leaders of the Opposition INDIA bloc, questioned the Election Commission’s delay in releasing the final voter turnout data for the first two phases of the Lok Sabha polls and the alleged discrepancy in the figures as compared to what was reported on the voting days.

While the first phase of the parliamentary election on April 19 recorded a turnout of 66.14%, the second phase on April 26 recorded a figure of 66.71%, the poll panel had said on April 30. However, the panel did not release the total number of voters in each constituency.

The final figures of the first two phases of polling are substantially higher than the provisional polling estimates for the two phases released by the Election Commission earlier. The data was also released after more than ten days of the first phase and four days after the second phase of polling.

“I would urge all of you that we must collectively, unitedly and unequivocally raise our voice against such discrepancies, for our only objective is to protect the culture of a vibrant democracy and the Constitution,” Kharge had said in his letter.

However, on Friday the poll body said that the voter turnout data was not delayed as it was available on the Voter Turnout App.

“The very premise that voter turnout data was released late is devoid of facts as it has always been available on the Voter Turnout application,” the poll body said. “…Needless to add that polling station wise data of electors and voters is given to agent of the candidate on the day of poll itself at close of poll.

The Election Commission also said that the records showed no Congress candidate raising any concerns regarding the data at the close of the polls.

Further, the poll panel said it is not legally bound to publish voter turnout data at the aggregate level of a constituency, state or phase “because voter turnout is recorded at polling station level in statutory Form 17C, which is prepared by the Presiding Officer and signed by polling agents of candidates present”.

Congress calls EC’s letter ‘deeply regrettable’

Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh on Friday said that the response of the Election Commission to the concerns raised by Kharge “is simply beyond description”.

He said that the Congress president had raised legitimate issues, on which there have been widespread concern and comment, however, the approach of the Election Commission is “deeply regrettable”.

“The EC [Election Commission] is a Constitutional body entrusted with the responsibility of being an impartial body that ensures, and is seen to ensure, a level-playing field to all political parties,” Ramesh said in a tweet. “Both the content and intent of the letter will be a permanent blot on the reputation of an institution that can boast of luminaries like Sukumar Sen, TN Seshan, JM Lyngdoh and others.”

A delegation of the INDIA bloc also met with the poll panel on Friday evening to register their objections about the delay in releasing final voter turnout figures and alleged discrepancies in its data.

“There cannot and should not be an 11-day delay in publishing voter percentage, but what is more worrying is the increase in voter percentage in the final voter turnout data,” Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi told reporters after the meeting. “If we compare it with the 2019 elections, then such a rise was not seen in these figures. If the figures are published soon, then speculations will not arise.”

Singhvi also said that the INDIA bloc has filed eleven complaints against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah, but no action has been taken on them.

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