- Violence was reported in Assam's Barak Valley region yesterday
- The police fired blank shots in the air, baton-charged at mob
- The EVM is secure as are the election personnel, authorities have said
The Election Commission today ordered fresh voting in one polling station of Assam's Ratabari seat following a controversy over officials transporting an electronic voting machine (EVM) in a BJP candidate's car yesterday. The four officials involved have been suspended, a release from the poll panel said. The incident had led to violence in Karimganj district where the seat is located. The car belonged to the wife of Krishnendu Paul, a BJP contestant in nearby Patharkandi. Top opposition leaders today cited this to allege malpractices by the ruling BJP.
Assam went through the second phase of polling yesterday, recording over 77 per cent turnout and a few instances of violence. One of the incidents was in Karimganj, with a video of the disturbance being widely shared on social media.
It followed the break-down, at around 9pm yesterday, of the Election Commission-assigned vehicle of a polling team posted to polling station number 149 at Ratabari's Indira MV School. It was on its way back to the strong room after voting, official sources informed NDTV. The presiding officer contacted the sector officer for a replacement vehicle and was assured of one.
At around 9.20pm, however, the staff took a lift in the private car without checking its ownership, the poll panel's release said today. Krishnendu Paul's electoral affidavit confirm that his wife, Madhumita Paul, owned the vehicle (registration number: AS10B0022).
As the car approached the locality where the strong room is situated by around 10pm, supporters of the opposition identified the vehicle and mobbed it, along with the driver; the police staff ran for safety. They pelted stones at the vehicle and abused the passengers.
The district administration had to resort to police action to disperse the crowd and secure the vehicle, the EVM, and the polling personnel, officials said.
"On examination, the polled EVM comprising of BU, CU and VVPAT was found to be with its seal intact without any damage whatsoever. All the items have been deposited in the strong room," the release said. The officials involved have been suspended, Election Commission sources have said, with repolling ordered at station 149. The Presiding Officer has been issued a show cause notice for violation of the transport protocol.
The opposition has cited the incident to allege "EVM capturing" by the ruling BJP. The Congress's Gaurav Gogoi, for instance, has said "this is the only way the BJP can win Assam".
This is the only way the BJP can win Assam: by looting EVMs. EVM capturing, like there used to be booth capturing. All under the nose of the Election Commission. Sad day for democracy. #EVM_theft_Assam#AssamAssemblyElection2021https://t.co/5dmlu67Uui— Gaurav Gogoi (@GauravGogoiAsm) April 1, 2021
Dubbing the BJP a serial offender in such cases, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi, in a series of tweets, sought "a serious re-evaluation of the use of EVMs" by all national parties. In another tweet in Hindi, she referred to the Election Commission sarcastically as "masoom" or innocent.
Every time there is an election videos of private vehicles caught transporting EVM's show up. Unsurprisingly they have the following things in common:— Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (@priyankagandhi) April 2, 2021
1. The vehicles usually belong to BJP candidates or their associates. ....
Badruddin Ajmal of the AIUDF, which is in alliance with the Congress, tweeted saying "stealing EVMs" was the BJP's last resort after all its other moves -- "polarisation", "buying votes", "doublespeak on CAA", among others -- had failed.
Polarisation? Failed.— Maulana Badruddin Ajmal (@BadruddinAjmal) April 2, 2021
Buying votes? Failed.
Buying candidates? Failed.
Double CMs? Failed.
Doublespeak on CAA? Failed.
Loser BJP's last resort: steal the EVMs.
Murder of democracy.#EVM_theft_Assam#AssamAssemblyElection2021https://t.co/2TRZRFvqDb
The final phase of polling in the state will be held on April 6 and the results will be declared on May 2.