Varied voting in pan-India bypolls; EVMs malfunction in UP, Maharashtra

New Delhi: Amid complaints of dysfunctional electronic voting machines (EVMs) in three parliamentary constituencies in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, the bypolls on Monday to four Lok Sabha and nine Assembly seats across India saw moderate to high turnout.

The Congress and some other opposition parties complained to the Election Commission (EC) about “hundreds of EVMs” having malfunctioned, particularly in Uttar Pradesh’s Kairana, but the poll panel said the news reports of “large scale” failure of EVMs were “an exaggerated projection of reality”.

It said that adequate number of reserve EVMs-VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail) were kept and deployed in almost half hour where there were reports of non-functioning of the machines.

The poll panel said the malfunctioning could be attributed to “first-time use by polling staff, extreme heat, placement of the machine under direct sunlight and mishandling during use”.

In Kairana, where the BJP is locked in an intense fight with combined opposition including the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress, the polling percentage was 54.17 per cent till 6 p.m.

In the Noorpur Assembly segment of the state, the polling percentage was 61 till 6 p.m.

In Kairana, there were reports of firing in Bhura village and skirmishes between supporters of the opposition-supported RLD candidate Tabassum Hasan and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Mriganka Singh, daughter of late Hukum Singh, whose death necessitated the bypoll.

Both the RLD and the BJP filed complaints alleging that over 100 voting machines were malfunctioning.

The BJP told the EC that a large number of EVMs were out of order, forcing hundreds of voters to wait outside polling booths in the scorching heat.

In the national capital, a multi-party delegation including Congress leader R.P.N. Singh, Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav and RLD chief Ajit Singh met the EC officers and demanded a repoll in booths where there were reports of dysfunctional EVMs.

In Maharashtra, about 40 per cent polling was estimated till 6 p.m. in the Bhandara-Gondiya Parliamentary constituency. In Palghar, the polling percentage was around 47 till 6 p.m.

Senior Nationalist Congress Party leader Praful Patel alleged that “nearly 25 per cent of all the EVMs in Bhandara-Gondiya were defective or had malfunctioned”.

EC officer in-charge Abhimanyu Kale told the media that around 156 EVMs were replaced or spares deployed.

Hundreds of voters patiently waited to cast their votes in the blistering heat as the EVMs were replaced.

The EC trashed reports that polling had been cancelled in 35 booths in Bhandara-Gondiya.

The defective machines hit polling severely, with barely 25 per cent of the electorate casting their votes by 2 p.m. in both constituencies.

Ruling ally Shiv Sena also strongly criticised the EC and the government for the glitches and claimed that these were reported mostly from the party’s strongholds.

Sena MP Sanjay Raut said the glitch is nothing but a manifestation of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ recent controversial statement on ‘Saam, Daam, Dand, Bhed’.

Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) President Prakash Ambedkar demanded cancellation of the elections in Bhandara-Gondiya while Congress state spokesperson Sachin Sawant alleged large-scale irregularities.

Both elections are prestigious for the state’s ruling BJP, which faces the NCP in Bhandara-Gondiya and its own ally Shiv Sena in Palghar.

The bypoll in Bhandara-Gondiya was necessitated after sitting BJP member Nana Patole quit the party in December 2017 and later joined the Congress. BJP’s Hemant Patle, who was earlier in the Shiv Sena, faces NCP’s Madhukar Kukde, who is supported by the Congress, while there were 18 others in the fray.

In Palghar, the bypoll came after sitting MP Chintaman Vanga died. However his son joined the Shiv Sena and was given party ticket. The BJP has fielded former Congress leader Rajendra Gavit, while the Congress has put up Damoda Shingda.

The bypoll to the Nagaland Parliamentary seat witnessed 75 per cent polling. The seat fell vacant as sitting member Neiphiu Rio resigned after being elected to the state Assembly and becoming Chief Minister.

In Bihar, Jokihat Assembly seat saw nearly 55 per cent polling.

Bypolls to Silli and Gomia Assembly constituencies in Jharkhand saw 75 per cent and 62 per cent voting, respectively.

In West Bengal, around 70 per cent of votes were cast till 5 p.m. for bypoll to the Maheshtala Assembly constituency. In Punjab, Shahkot Assembly constituency recorded over 73 per cent voting.

Chengannur Assembly constituency in Kerala saw voting percentage of 77 per cent while Meghalya’s Ampati Assembly seat saw a high voter turn out of 90.42 per cent.

Polling was also held at Tharali in Uttarakhand.