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Gujarat village panchayat polls rigged? State poll commission officials refuse RTI info on duplicate voters' list

State Election Commission chairman Varesh Sinha
By Pankti Jog*
Mehulbhai Rathod of Aniyali (Kasbati) of Botad district was one of the candidates for the village panchayat elections, held in Gujarat in December last week. He claims to have observed that some residents of his village had voted twice -- in Anilyali as well as in the neighbouring Ranpur. He meticulously worked to prepare a list of 14 such names, who allegedly voted at two different places.
Just as it happens with every candidate, who would check the list and tickmark each name after the vote is cast, Mehulbhai, too, did  the same. On getting suspicious that something has gone wrong, he got the list checked from a candidate from Ranpur.
On the basis of the information he has received, Mehulbhai believes, the village panchayat elections were not free and fair. He says, Gujarat's State Election Commission (SEC) has failed to give fair and clean elections to the voters, which is its prime responsibility.
Mehulbhai is one of the 20 complainants who have approached the Right to Information (RTI) helpline (9924085000) run by Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP) from Surendrangar, Junagadh and Rajkot districts, contending that many people couldn't find their names on the voters' list despite the fact that it was there in the “search” results of the SEC's online list.
The duplicate voters' list prepared by Mehulbhai
Mehulbhai, as also many others, therefore, believe, this has impacted results of the panchayat elections. Mehulbhai has another reason to be more perturbed than others – he lost the election just by 10 votes.
As soom as he got the result, he filed an RTI with SEC's taluka and district election officials to show him the list of voters at the polling station which should conform with the list of people who had voted on the polling day.
However, Mehulbhai regrets, he was denied information. Therefore, he has now lodged a detailed complaint with the State Information Commission, Gujarat's RTI watchdog. If that does not help, he underlines, he will approach the High Court.
There is a strong impression that the role of SEC has remained very weak in Gujarat, as could be seen during the last urban local bodies, held in December 2015. There were a large number of complaints to the effect that the names of voters had disappeared at the last moment. Many voters were surprised to find their names were canceled with red stamp marks.
Defending what many believed was mass rigging (click HERE to read), SEC had said that the final list had arrived at the last moment, hence it had no time to remove the names from the voters' list. It therefore decided to cross out certain names with red marks.
As per the People's Representation Act, 1951, the voters' list should be uniform for local self-government, state assembly and Lok Sabha elections. After Mehulbhai was denied information, there is reason to believe that what happened with him and others casts on SEC's autonomy. In fact, it gives credence to the view that SEC has acted on instructions from the ruling politicians of Gujarat.
---
*With Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Ahmedabad

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