‘Voters will Prevail’: Civil society members call for people’s fight for transparency, action from ECI

On May 17, the ECI released data on voter turnout in the 17 Parliament Constituencies of Telangana

By Kedar Nadella  Published on  23 May 2024 11:28 AM GMT
‘Voters will Prevail’: Civil society members call for people’s fight for transparency, action from ECI

Hyderabad: Even after multiple representations were sent by Opposition leaders, activists and concerned citizens to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to fulfil its duty of ensuring transparency in the voting process, there has been no response.

Difference of one crore voters in data

On the political front, on Thursday, the Telangana Congress raised suspicions about the style of ECI’s functioning.

Stating that there are considerable issues with the voter turnout data released by the ECI on multiple dates, the Congress said that people must note the difference of one crore voters, as alleged by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) in the case they filed in the Supreme Court.

“It is said that there was a difference of about 28,000 votes each in 379 constituencies. The organization (ADR) mentioned that this difference is 69,0000 in Andhra Pradesh, 57,000 in Kerala and 50,000 in Maharashtra,” G Niranjan, AICC member and chairman of the election commission coordination committee, said.

On May 17, the ECI released data on voter turnout in the 17 Parliament Constituencies of Telangana. The total voter turnout percentage was given as 65.67 per cent.

“The organisation has expressed its suspicion that there is a possibility of changing the EVMs as well,” he added.

What is the controversy regarding Form 17C?

Form 17C contains the records of votes polled at each polling station. Opposition leaders and civil society groups have been asking for the disclosure of the data on the forms which will help the public crosscheck the voter turnout data with the total votes polled.

Explaining how Form 17C works, the Congress leader said, “On the election day, the presiding officer in each polling station will give the details of the total number of votes and votes polled in that polling station in Form 17C. This format also bears the signature of the presiding officer and the signatures of the polling agents of the candidates. A copy of this will also be given to the agents of the candidates.”

The returning officer of the Parliamentary Constituency prepares a booth-wise statement detailing the voter turnout and submits it to the state election officer, he said and added, ‘if the copy submitted by the Returning Officer is also provided to the candidates, there is an opportunity to cross-check with 17C.’

However, on Wednesday, the ECI informed the Supreme Court that releasing data based on Form 17C will cause confusion in public since there are chances of ‘mischief’ through the manipulation of images.

Responding to ECI opposing the plea for public disclosure of Form 17C, Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal said, “The ECI has filed an affidavit in the SC stating it has no legal mandate to upload Form 17 which is a record of votes polled at a polling station. Form 17 is signed by presiding officer and given to polling agent at the end of polling. The information is also directly sent to ECI. Now why does the ECI not put that data on website? What’s the problem? What can happen in the process is the number of votes that are counted would in fact be more than the number of votes that are polled. We don’t know what’s correct? Why ECI is hesitating to put it on website. Nobody can morph it. Parties are having doubt.”

‘Regime does not want the transition of power to happen peacefully’

This is not the first time since the polling started from the first phase on May 13 that the ECI has been asked to disclose voter turnout data in absolute numbers. The ECI has also been urged by many to take action against political leaders of the ruling party regarding alleged poll violations during campaigning.

In light of these issues, many people’s organisations and civil society members came together in Bengaluru in a public event urging people to ‘discuss the threat to the people’s mandate and measures to be taken to protect the mandate.’

“By the end of the month, a movement to protect the rights of citizens will be launched under the name ‘Voters Will Prevail’,” the attendees declared.

The meeting was attended by many prominent civil society members such as economist Parakala Prabhakar, social activist Teesta Setalvad, linguist Ganesh Dev and Professor Padmaja Shaw.

“The present regime in the country is facing strong opposition and is aware that the people of the country are planning to vote them out. However, the ruling government has too many skeletons in the closet and is not willing to give up power peacefully,” said Parakala Prabhakar naming some of the recent controversies surrounding the ruling BJP government such as the electoral bonds scheme.

‘Ruling party Vs people of country’

“There might be many such scams and they have too much to hide,” Prabhakar added. He claimed that since 2025 will be the centenary anniversary of the RSS, the BJP would want to stay in power.

“This is no longer a fight between parties. On one hand, we have the ruling party led by the prime minister and on the other are the people of the country,” he said.

He said that more than political parties, civil society members should organise themselves in a decentralised manner in each constituency so that they are ready with the tools such as the 17C forms through which they can question the data being put out by the government.

What can citizens do to make their voices heard?

To counter the inaction by the ECI, the civil society groups have decided to start a massive voter rights campaign in the name of ‘voters shall prevail in a democracy’, form a Citizen Vigilance Commission to prevent tampering in vote counting and petition the Supreme Court to intervene in the counting process to ensure transparency and action by the ECI.

“If the BJP has taken an unethical path, violated democratic methods of transfer of power, resorted to manipulation, hooliganism and formation of a dummy government etc. then we as citizens should not remain silent. To protect the will of the electorate we must launch a powerful nationwide peaceful satyagraha. State and national level consultations should continue for this one week,” they said.

On May 11, as many as 400 postcards were sent to the Election Commission of India from Hyderabad as part of the ‘Grow A Spine or Resign’ campaign led by citizens and members of various civil society groups in the city. Hyderabad joined the nationwide postcard campaign from Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Delhi demanding the ECI to action against alleged poll violations by various political leaders during the ensuing Lok Sabha elections.

“So far, we have not received any response from the ECI regarding the postcards we sent,” said Ruchith Asha Kamal, who was part of the delegation that met the Telangana chief electoral officer (CEO) with requests for transparency on the voter turnout data.

Doubts on EVM manipulation

Another civil society has urged the opposition parties to look into ‘the technical studies that have shown potential threats of rigging of the software used for totalling and uploading results in individual EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines).’ They asked the Opposition parties to conduct the rest of the elections through paper ballots.

with inputs from PTI

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