Kairana/Lucknow/New Delhi: As bypolls took place across nine states on Monday, there were allegations of malfunctioning voting machines at Kairana and Noorpur in Uttar Pradesh, constituencies seen as testing grounds for opposition unity against the state's ruling BJP.
- Rashtriya Lok Dal alleged voting machine snag at 175 booths in Kairana
- Akhilesh Yadav also complained that machines had malfunctioned in Noorpur
- Both Kairana and Noorpur are BJP seats
Both sides took their complaints to Delhi, meeting the election commission separately. The commission said all voters who had queued up at polling booths till the close of voting time, 6 pm, would be allowed to cast their votes.
While Kairana registered a turnout of 54.17 per cent, Noorpur saw 61 per cent polling till 6 pm, said UP's Chief Electoral Officer.
In Kairana, the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), whose candidate Tabassum Hasan is backed by various opposition parties, complained to the Election Commission that Electronic Voting Machines (EVMS) and VVPAT or Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail --- which eject slips to confirm to voters that their choices have been recorded correctly --- had malfunctioned in 175 booths.
384 VVPATs and about 15-20 EVMs were replaced in Kairana and Noorpur through the day. The number seems unprecedented but one of the reasons could be the heat, said the office of UP's Chief Electoral Officer, adding that the reasons will be investigated.
Calling the allegations of 'large scale' failure of EVMs and VVPATs an "exaggeration", the election commission said the faulty machines were replaced with machines kept in reserve.
"EVMS didn't work due to severe heat conditions, we are taking steps to fix it," the poll commission said.
In Delhi, RLD chief Ajit Singh and Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav met the election commission and demanded that voting be extended by two hours.
"In rural areas where we have a vote base, replacement of EVMs was delayed but in urban areas the malfunctioning voter machines were replaced speedily. We feel this is because of local officials; they don't even take calls," alleged Mr Yadav.
Listing problem-hit booths in its complaint, the RLD alleged that voters were "deliberately" not allowed to cast their votes.
"Machines are being tampered everywhere, faulty machines haven't been replaced in Muslim and Dalit-dominated areas. They (BJP) think they can win polls like this. That won't happen," alleged Tabassum Hasan.
Several Muslim women who waited at the booths where the machines didn't work told NDTV they would not be able to return to cast their votes as it is Ramzan.
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav also complained that machines had malfunctioned in Noorpur, where the assembly by-poll is being held after the death of BJP lawmaker Lokendra Singh.
At booths where polling was disrupted for more than two hours due to malfunctioning VVPATs, the election commission could consider re-polling after going through the reports of district election officers, said UP's Chief Electoral Officer.
Both Kairana and Noorpur are BJP seats held by the BJP.
Bypoll in Kairana is taking place due to the death of the sitting lawmaker --- BJP's Hukum Singh --- whose daughter Mriganka Singh is the party's candidate.
A BJP delegation led by party lawmaker Bhupender Yadav met the poll panel demanding that voting time be extended where the faulty machines were replaced and re-polling at places where the machines could not be replaced.
"As per our information, EVMs in 197 booths remained non-working for a long time. We have asked the election commission to send observers to find out what led to this," said Bhupender Yadav.
Encouraged by their bypoll victories in BJP strongholds Gorakhpur and Phoolpur earlier this year, the opposition is confident of defeating the BJP in Kairana that has a mix of Jats, Muslims, Dalits and Most Backward Castes. Kairana also represents the opposition's bigger ambition of closing ranks to put up a stronger fight against the BJP in the 2019 general elections.