Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge on Saturday said it was surprising that the Election Commission responded to his “open letter” regarding alleged discrepancies in voter turnout data while ignoring several other complaints filed with it.

The Election Commission on Friday told Kharge that his letter to the Opposition INDIA bloc leaders reflected a “biased and deliberate attempt to spread confusion on credibility of the electoral steps”.

“Utterances from the 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,” said the poll body.

It also said that Kharge’s allegations bordered on “vitiating the constitutionally mandated work of ECI”.

Responding to the poll body on Saturday, Kharge said that the “open letter” was addressed to his party’s alliance partners and not to the poll body.

“I have certain misgivings about the language of the letter, but I will not press on that issue as I understand the pressures they are working under,” he said.

Kharge pointed out that on the one hand, the poll body has stated it respects citizens’ right to ask questions but on the other hand, it was “threatening citizens in the form of advice to exercise caution”.

“I am happy that the commission understands that it has the mandate to conduct smooth, free and fair elections under the Constitution,” the Rajya Sabha MP said. “However, the lack of urgency shown by the commission in taking action against blatantly communal and casteist statements being made by the leaders of the ruling party [Bharatiya Janata Party] that vitiates the electoral process seems puzzling.”

Kharge said that he was also puzzled by the poll panel’s need to write that it is not “legally bound to publish any voter turnout data at aggregate level of a constituency or state”.

“I am sure many voters of our country would be surprised too,” he said. “Many voters who are deeply interested in the elections would also like to see the absolute number of votes polled to be put out in the public domain by the Commission directly.”

On Tuesday, Kharge, 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 alleged discrepancy in the figures.

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 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.

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.

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