ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS: CPI(M) Tripura State Committee’s letter to Chief Election Commissioner
THE CPI(M) Tripura state committee has sent a detailed representation to the chief election commissioner on February 19, 2018 regarding certain crucial issues pertaining to the assembly elections of Tripura held on February 18, 2018. Despite expressing its concerns over the presence of outsiders, major display of money power and on the functioning of the EVM – VVPAT units, some substantial issues have arisen in course of the polling. CPI(M)’s letter said that the general elections to Tripura legislative assembly were held on February 18, 2018 maintaining by and large the state’s tradition of high turnout in a peaceful festive atmosphere except some untoward incidents of attack, intimidation, prevention in coming to polling booths etc. But yesterday’s election in the state raises many questions and suspicions in the minds of the people.
1. Firstly, there was failure of EVMs (the entire apparatus of control unit, ballot unit and VVPAT) in large number of booths. Out of 3,174 polling booths of 59 assembly segments, EVMs got disordered in 519 polling booths ie, 16.35 per cent which is really unusual. In some booths, the machines were first tried to be repaired. Even after repairing, the EVMs got out of order repeatedly. In large number of machines, either the control unit or ballot unit or VVPATs were replaced by other units. In many booths, even the replaced units also failed to function properly.
2. The voters started coming to the booth from dawn. Due to EVM disorder in many booths, polling could not be started on time. In some booths, polling had to be started 3-4 hours late. Naturally the voters’ queue got longer. Being displeased over the delay, many voters including aged and sick persons went back. However, some of them came to the booth in the later hours. Due to the EVM malfunction, in many booths polling continued even till midnight.
3. On February 17, the previous evening of the poll day, some engineers, according to the state election Authority, ECL Engineers, opened up all the ballot units of 58-Panisagar assembly constituency, 12 ballot units of 56-Dharmanagar assembly constituency and 3 of 57-Jubarajnagar assembly constituency. This happened in the absence of any political party representatives. This has created a mystery because, after the setting of candidates in the ballot unit in RO’s office, no one has the authority to open the machines. It is still a mystery as to what the engineers did to the machines. Such opening up of machines was not required in any of the assembly segments where polling was held on February 18, 2018. CPI(M) candidate and his election agent have vehemently protested against this to the RO. From the CPI(M) state committee office, clarification was sought from the chief electoral officer, who said that due to shortage of engineers they had started checking these EVMs from the pre-poll day evening. But why such check up of EVMs was required only in 56-Dharmanagar assembly constituency was not clarified. This is still a mystery.
Much before the poll day, CPI(M) was demanding the state election authority to strengthen area supervision in some areas of 12-Takarjala(ST) assembly constituency which was very troublesome. CPI(M) candidate was repeatedly obstructed during the campaign period. Our supporters were threatened not to go out on poll day, by the miscreants of IPFT(NC) whose core demand is to split the state and which is an electoral ally of the BJP. We put our submission in this regard even to the special observer RK Panchananda on February 17. In spite of that, our apprehension came to be true on the poll day. Initially, our polling agents were prevented from entering booths. A good number of our voters were prevented from going to the booths. Our Party symbol in the EVM was kept covered in two booths for a considerable time. In one polling booth, our polling agent was forcibly driven out of the booth. We sought re-poll in following three booths of this assembly constituency.
i) Booth No. 5, Ratanpur High School (Uttarangsha)
ii) Booth No. 6, Ratanpur High School (Dakshinangsha)
iii) Booth No. 37, Kupilong J. B. School (Paschimanganga)
4. In spite of the direction from the Election Commission of India, the outsiders mostly from Assam, West Bengal and from some Hindi-speaking state stayed in Tripura on the poll day. Most of them were housed in various hotels, guest houses and houses of BJP leaders and workers. One Pallav Lochan Das, a minister from Assam was found hiding in a house at a remote village of Gandachhara with a heavy suitcase on February 17th night. Instead of taking legal steps against him and searching the suitcase in his possession, the police let him go out of the state. On the poll day, BJP leader and finance minister of Assam, Himanta Biswasharma was found visiting the booth offices of his party at 4-Barjala(SC) constituency. One Ajoy Sharma, a so-called ‘Bistarak’ of the BJP, Assam unit, was arrested in 34-Rajnagar(SC) assembly constituency from the house of BJP worker Ranjit Sarkar. Many BJP workers from outside the state were present in many BJP offices including their state headquarters.
5. BJP advertisement containing allurements and false contents against the Left Front and Left Front government, got certified by the MCMC even on February 17th and 18th. In one such advertisement certified by the MCMC, BJP informed that they would keep a watch over 3000 polling booths through their own camera. Though there is no rule in the People’s Representatives Act, the MCMC allowed such an advertisement purposefully to mislead the people and scare the electors as the secrecy of their vote would not be secured.
6. Web casting system has been introduced in the state for the first time. This is to centrally monitor the poll proceedings in all the polling booths. The contract for the task was given to a company in Gujarat. The contract-holder sub-let the task to Soumen Paul who happens to be state committee member of BJP. Soumen Paul engaged his trusted BJP followers to cover webcasting in each booth of the state. BJP advertisement indicated that it would keep a watch over all the polling booths through these webcasting cameras which are practically in the hands of the BJP workers. From the BJP advertisement, we suspect that the BJP leaders got the secret code or passwords to access the cameras which were recording the proceedings of the poll inside the polling booths. This is just unfair.
7. In the evening of poll day, February 18, 2018, the election agent of CPI(M) candidate from 17-Golaghati(ST), Pulin Bardhan was attacked by the IPFT(NC) and he received grievous injuries and the para-military forces launched an unproved attack on Left Front sponsored Forward Bloc candidate from 8-Town Bordwali constituency, Biswanath Saha. Both are now under treatment in GB Hosptial.
In view of all these eventualities, the CPI(M) has demanded the chief election commissioner to conduct a thorough inquiry into the violations of the People’s Representative Act, 1951 in this election in Tripura and urged upon him to count the VVPAT slips in the following assembly constituencies:
Nilotpal Basu, CPI(M) central secretariat member met the chief election commissioner, Om Prakash Rawat, on February 20 and expressed the above concerns to him regarding Tripura assembly elections. The chief election commissioner assured that these concerns will be seriously looked into.
CPI(M) Delegation Meets CEC
A DELEGATION comprising CPI(M) Polit Bureau members S Ramachandran Pillai and Brinda Karat met the Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat on February 17 for expressing concerns over the appointment of special observer in Tripura. The delegation submitted a memorandum to the CEC drawing his attention to the appointment of R K Panchananda, director general of ITBP as special observer for the assembly elections in Tripura scheduled on February 18, 2018. The memorandum noted that this seems an unusual step.
The Tripura local TV channels flashed breaking news regarding the closed door meeting of R K Panchananda with state BJP president in the chamber of chief electoral officer, Tripura which has created confusion among the people.
The delegation requested the CEC to intervene and make clear the matter to the people of Tripura.
In response, the chief election commissioner assured the delegation that written information will be given to all political parties about the appointment of special observer and his scope of work as decided by the Central Election Commission. He also said that he will ask for a written report on the circumstances in which the special observer met the BJP president of Tripura state.