The Election Commission Friday deferred polls to one assembly constituency in Bengaluru on the eve of voting for the Karnataka assembly polls after 9,896 voter ID cards were found in a flat in Raja Rajeshwari Nagar earlier this week. A police probe supervised by the EC named the Congress candidate, Munirathna, as an accused.
The police probe found that the voter ID cards were obtained from genuine voters in slums to offer them inducements to vote for the Congress candidate and film producer Munirathna. The decision triggered sharp criticism from the BJP, which demanded the arrest of the candidate, while the Congress accused the BJP of attempting to malign the party.
The EC had sent deputy election commissioner Chandrabhushan Kumar to assess the gravity of the situation and the status of the probe. The EC Friday reported that the “illegal collection of EPIC cards is likely to significantly affect the conduct of free and fair election in the constituency’’. The commission also claimed that the polls were being postponed in RR Nagar since it was not possible to return the EPIC cards to the voters before polls on Saturday. Polls in RR Nagar were deferred to May 28.
Accusing Munirathna of attempting to induce voters by collecting voter ID cards, police said he had engaged a private survey company to approach voters and collect their details and offered water cans for votes. The BJP, whose workers barged into a flat in RR Nagar and discovered the alleged plot called the ECI decision “a victory of democracy’’. BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje called for the arrest of Munirathna and his associates who were involved in the alleged inducement exercise. “We request the EC to order the arrest of Munirathna and others on the basis of the FIR registered by the police,’’ she said.
While Union Cabinet Minister Piyush Goyal termed the EC decision “extraordinary”, Union Minister and BJP in-charge of poll preparations in Karnataka Prakash Javadekar, tweeted: “Postponement of RR Nagar assembly poll has exposed Congress in Karnataka as it is caught red hand in rigging the election there. Kudos to election commission for saving democracy.”
Accusing the BJP of employing its “dirty tricks department to malign the Congress party and its leaders’’, Karnataka Congress spokesperson K E Radhakrishnan said, “Munirathna has unequivocally declared that he has nothing to do with voter ID malpractices. It is pertinent to note that the voter ID cards were found in the house of Manjula Nanjamari, who was an active leader of the BJP. The polls have only been deferred to May 28 and not countermanded.”
The JD(S) called the EC decision “a slap on the Karnataka Congress government as well as chief minister Siddaramaiah’’. “The returning officers of RR Nagar have colluded with Congress candidates. We demand that the Election Commission takes steps against these persons,’’ JDS spokesperson Ramesh Babu said. The discovery of 9,896 voter ID cards and other paraphernalia like copying machines, money and papers in a flat in SLV Park View apartments at Jalahalli in north Bengaluru created a furore on May 8 when the Opposition BJP and the ruling Congress accused each other of illegal activities to win the May 12 assembly polls.
The matter was reported after a few people suspected to be affiliated to political parties clashed in a flat at the SLV Park View Apartments. Soon after, the BJP demanded the countermanding of polls for the RR Nagar constituency alleging a fake voter ID racket. The Congress had responded by stating that the entire episode was BJP “drama”.
Karnataka Chief Electoral Officer Sanjeev Kumar and Bengaluru Police Commissioner T Suneel Kumar visited the flat and a police case was registered. Following a preliminary inquiry, two persons who were at the flat were arrested on Tuesday.
Kumar later said that the 9,896 election ID cards seized were not fakes and belonged to people in localities in the R R Nagar constituency in west Bengaluru. He also said the cards seemed to have been collected as part of an exercise to bribe voters since the voter cards were bundled into various categories under the names of people who may have collected it along with pictures and details of the homes where the owners of the cards resided.
“There is no evidence of bogus cards as some people have alleged. They have been collected for some purpose and further investigations will reveal the purpose. Prima facie it seems like an effort to influence voters. It can be inferred as efforts to bribe for votes,” Kumar said.