Days before election results, united Oppn approaches EC

Leaders of 22 opposition parties approached the Election Commission of India (EC) on Tuesday, demanding verification of VVPAT slips of randomly-selected polling stations before the counting of votes for Lok Sabha election begins. The Opposition’s move came following a meeting of several party leaders ahead of counting of votes and declaration of the Lok Sabha election results on May 23.

Opposition leaders demanded that Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips for the five selected booths in each assembly segment should be counted first. They also said that if any discrepancy is found during VVPAT verification, then all paper trail slips of all polling stations in an assembly segment should be counted and compared with Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) results.

“We told the EC that the VVPAT machines should be counted first and if there is any discrepancy, then all of them in that segment should be counted,” Congress spokesperson Ghulam Nabi Azad told reporters in New Delhi after meeting EC officials.

In April, the Supreme Court had ordered the poll watchdog to verify EVM votes with the paper slips generated by VVPAT machines for five polling booths selected at random in every assembly segment.

In the instructions put out by EC, the VVPAT slips were to be counted at the end of the last round.

Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi further said that after multiple requests to EC for months, the poll body has agreed to meet on Wednesday to address their concerns.

“We are asking EC to respect the mandate of people. It cannot be manipulated,” Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief and Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu said on Tuesday.

Opposition parties also raised concerns over the transportation of EVMs ahead of counting of votes and urged EC to probe the issue after a video circulating online purportedly showed manipulation of EVMs in Uttar Pradesh strongrooms.

Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) Satish Chandra Mishra alleged that “there is large-scale bungling related to EVMs in Uttar Pradesh. We demand deployment of central forces”.

The election commission, however, “emphatically and unambiguously” denied the reports on Tuesday and said the allegations were “absolutely false, and factually incorrect”.

“All polled EVMs and VVPATs are brought under security cover to the designated strongrooms, which is sealed with double locks, in the presence of the candidates and in the presence of observers of the Election Commission. Each strongroom is guarded with round-the-clock security by Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF). Further, the candidates or their designated agents remain present at the strongroom for 24X7 vigil at all times,” the statement by the poll watchdog said.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Tuesday hit back at the Opposition for questioning the credibility of EVMs and asked them to accept their defeat with grace if the people vote Prime Minister Narendra Modi back to power.

BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao said opposition parties are desperately seeking an alibi for their impending defeat. “When they [opposition parties] win, as they did in state polls recently, EVMs are trustworthy. But when they lose, they [EVMs] become questionable.”

“Their selective trust in the EVMs is hypocritical and mischievous. Their blatant effort at rubbishing the predicted pro-BJP mandate is an insult to the Indian democracy. The Opposition parties look very small not in their defeat, but in their condemnable conduct,” he said, referring to exit polls, the majority of which have predicted an overwhelming victory for the BJP in the general elections.

On Tuesday, opposition parties protested in Ghazipur, Chandauli, Domariyaganj and Jhansi — all in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha. About EVM tampering in Chandauli, the EC said it was “frivolous allegation by some people, EVMs were in proper security and protocol”.

Top opposition leaders had met earlier in the day to discuss the possibility of stitching an anti-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance. Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ashok Gehlot, Abhishek Manu Singhvi; TDP’s Naidu; Satish Chandra Misra of the BSP; Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India (Marxist); D Raja of CPI; Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener Arvind Kejriwal; Derek O’Brien of the Trinamool Congress, Ramgopal Yadav of the Samajwadi Party; Kanimozhi of the DMK, Manoj Jha (Rashtriya Janata Dal), Majeed Memon (Nationalist Congress Party), Devinder Rana (National Conference) were in attendance at the meeting.

The saffron party too, on Tuesday, held a meeting of the Union council of ministers at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi. Party president Amit Shah was also expected to host a dinner for National Democratic Alliance (NDA) allies later in the day.

The seven-phase polling for 542 Lok Sabha seats across the country concluded on May 19. Results will be declared on May 23.

(With inputs from agencies)

First Published:
May 22, 2019 05:28 IST

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