By Express News Service
GUWAHATI: Amidst the brouhaha after an EVM was found in a car registered in the name of the wife of Assam BJP MLA Krishnendu Paul, the Election Commission has suspended the Presiding Officer and three other officials and sought a report from the Special Observer.
Narrating how the EVM made its way into the car, the Commission said the polling party of No 149 – Indira MV School of Ratabari seat in Karimganj district was returning in a convoy with an armed escort led by the Police Sector Officer. It was raining heavily leading to the roads being muddy.
“NH-8 is the only artery road leading to Karimganj from remote areas of the district. Since it was polling day and the poll closes at 1800 hrs, about 1,300 vehicles were returning on the single highway, as all polling parties return to Karimganj from 1800 hrs onwards. Combined with the inclement weather, this had led to unprecedented traffic congestion on the highway,” the EC said in a statement.
Breaking : Situation tense after EVMs found in Patharkandi BJP candidate Krishnendu Paul’s car. pic.twitter.com/qeo7G434Eb
— atanu bhuyan (@atanubhuyan) April 1, 2021
It said when the polling party was approaching Nilam Bazaar, the vehicle broke down at about 9 pm. Due to traffic congestion and the prevailing weather condition, the party became detached from its convoy. It alighted from the vehicle and called the Sector Officer on his mobile and informed him. While the Sector Officer was arranging for an alternate vehicle, the polling party decided to arrange a vehicle on its own so as to reach the Material Receipt Centre faster since they were in custody of a polled EVM.
“At about 21:20 hrs, the polling party hailed a passing vehicle and boarded it along with their EVM and other things without checking the ownership of the vehicle…As reported by the polling party, they moved towards Karimganj and as they reached Kanaishil in Karimganj at about 22:00 hrs, they had to slow down in the traffic…
“As they slowed down, they were surrounded by a mob of about 50 people which started pelting stones at them. The mob also started abusing them and did not allow the vehicle to pass. When they asked the leader of the mob, he replied it was the vehicle of Sri Krishnendu Paul who is a contesting candidate of a neighbouring constituency (Patharkandi) and levelled allegations that the EVM was being taken to be tampered with,” the EC statement reads.
EC issues factual report on incident involving EVM in Assam.Polling party 149-Indira MV School of LAC 1 Ratabari (SC) met with incident. Party comprised a Presiding Officer & 3 polling personnel. They were accompanied by police personnel comprising a constable & a homeguard:EC pic.twitter.com/irm3DEr6KV
— ANI (@ANI) April 2, 2021
The statement said it was only then that they realised something was amiss and alerted the Sector Officer. However, a larger crowd gathered by then and the poll party was attacked and held hostage by a mob along with the EVM in the vehicle at 21:45 hrs alleging that the EVM was being taken to be tampered with.
“Immediately after receiving information about the incident, DEO Karimganj along with SP Karimganj rushed to the spot and reached there at 22:20 hrs. Also in the meanwhile, the antecedents of the vehicle were ascertained and it was found to be was registered in the name of Smti. Madhumita Paul, wife of contesting candidate, Patharkandi Krishnendu Paul. On arrival at the spot, it was observed that the crowd was pulling out the polling party and was about to assault them. The mob had turned violent and damaged the glass of the vehicle by stone pelting,” the statement said.
During the course of the stone pelting, the SP sustained minor injuries on his collarbone and blank firing had to be resorted to disperse the mob. The first polling officer was found missing in the commotion, the EVM and the remaining polling party were safely escorted from the area and taken into the control of the DEO at 22:20 hrs.
“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 first polling officer was missing until the wee hours of the morning of April 2 as he was hiding in the undergrowth nearby and a search operation was being conducted all night. This delayed the transmission of this report by a few hours…
“In this regard, the Presiding Officer was issued show-cause notice for violation of the transport protocol. Thereafter, the PO & 3 other officials have been placed under suspension. Although the seals of the EVM were found intact, it has nevertheless been decided to do a re-poll at No. 149- Indira MV,” the statement added.
A senior Assam journalist had shared a video of the incident and it went viral on the social media.
It drew the attention of Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra who said every time there is an election, videos of private vehicles caught transporting EVMs show up. Unsurprisingly they have the following things in common:
“The vehicles usually belong to BJP candidates or their associates. The videos are taken as one-off incidents and dismissed as aberrations. The BJP uses its media machinery to accuse those who exposed the videos as sore losers,” Priyanka said.
She also said: “The fact is that too many such incidents are being reported and nothing is being done about them. The EC needs to start acting decisively on these complaints and a serious re-evaluation of the use of EVMs needs to be carried out by all national parties”.
The Congress demanded the disqualification of Paul who is seeking re-election from Patharkandi.
“It is shocking that an EVM machine is found in a vehicle registered in the name of a BJP candidate. This is a conspiracy and a criminal act. We demand this candidate is disqualified and action taken against every officer involved. It is clear that BJP is losing Assam. They are using illegal means to win elections,” All India Mahila Congress chief Sushmita Dev said.
The party’s Assam chief Ripun Bora tweeted: “We expect the Election Commission to take immediate action and explain how this could happen. The Congress party will consider boycotting the election if this open loot and rigging of EVMs does not stop immediately.”
Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi wrote: “It is the same script in every election – Election Commission car broke down, EVM machines transferred to car belonging to BJP, later officials find out after public express their anger. Election Commission needs to save itself before public trust is eroded completely.”