SHRIKANT GANPAT Shirsat, an independent candidate who contested the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls, made a sensational claim after the results were declared on February 23. Alleging tampering of electronic voting machines (EVMs), the 34-year-old claimed that he did not get a single vote from his own polling booth even though he had voted for himself, and demanded a repoll.
Over the last two months, Shirsat’s claim was quoted by political parties to level allegations of EVM hacking in the assembly elections of UP, Uttarakhand and Punjab. It was also the inspiration behind AAP’s live demonstration of hacking an EVM prototype in the Delhi Assembly on Tuesday.
But Shirsat’s claim doesn’t match the facts.
Speaking to The Indian Express on Thursday, Maharashtra’s Deputy Election Commissioner Avinash T Sanas said, “He (Shirsat) stood for election from ward number 164 in Saki Naka. His claim had prompted an inquiry and we discovered that Shirsat is enrolled as a voter at two polling booths. Contrary to his claim, he hasn’t got ‘zero votes’ at either of the two polling booths.”
According to officials in the State Election Commission (SEC) of Maharashtra, which conducts local body elections, Shirsat secured a total of 44 votes from ward number 164. Out of the 44 votes, he got 11 votes at booth number 29 and two votes at booth number 15.
“Since he lives in the same area as booth number 29, we presume he must have cast his vote there. So his claim that his own vote and that of his family and neighbours disappeared is not true,” said an SEC official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
“Interestingly, Shirsat, in his February 27 complaint to the SEC, had made no mention of getting no votes in his own polling booth. He only said this to the media. In his letter, he has only raised suspicions over EVMs and demanded a repoll,” the official said.
When contacted by The Indian Express on Thursday, Shirsat said he did not wish to comment on the matter.
According to SEC officials, Shirsat’s name appears on the voters’ list along with those of his mother and father for polling booth 29 of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. He also registered as voter at polling booth 15 along with his brother and sister.
Sections 17 and 18 of the Representation of the People Act state that a person cannot be enrolled as a voter in more than one place in the same constituency or in more than one constituency.
On February 27, Shirsat was quoted by Mumbai Mirror as saying, “In the last assembly polls, I got 1,500 votes. Now, apparently, I have got 44, and from my booth, zero. I voted for myself, my family voted for me and so did my neighbours (on 90-feet Road in Saki Naka) — where did those votes go?”
On Tuesday, the day of AAP’s live demonstration, Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said, “Questions are being raised about why we did not complain when we won 67 seats in Delhi. Yes, we did not complain then, nor did we raise questions about the 272 seats won by BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, or the Maharashtra and Jharkhand assembly polls. But when a candidate in the BMC polls pointed out that he did not get a single vote despite voting for himself, it made us think.”
The AAP also staged a protest outside the Election Commission’s office on Thursday; the poll panel has called for all-party meeting on Friday to allay fears
regarding EVM hacking.
Last month, a delegation of Opposition parties led by the Congress had met the three election commissioners to urge them to revert to the ballot system of voting on the ground that the accuracy of EVMs is questionable. The memorandum submitted by this joint delegation had also mentioned Shirsat’s claim of ‘zero votes’ as an example of EVM tampering.
Following the declaration of the UP election results on March 11, BSP chief Mayawati was the first to complain against the EVMs. She had alleged that large-scale EVM tampering had facilitated the BJP sweep in UP.
Later, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal challenged the commission to make the EVMs available to the party for 72 hours and claimed that “we will read the code and rewrite it too”.
(With inputs from ENS/Mumbai)