The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is at loggerheads with the Election Commission over security of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) at strong rooms in the state ahead of counting on March 11 even as the rival parties accuse the AAP of displaying “paranoia” and preparing a “ground to blame their imminent defeat on EVMs.”
While Punjab’s Chief Election Officer (CEO) has been claiming proper security arrangements were in place, AAP has posted its volunteers outside the strong rooms of all 117 constituencies and has been alleging that standard operating procedure (SOP) was not being followed in securing the EVMs. While Punjab Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh too has shown extreme caution by putting up a private lock outside the strong room in Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s Lambi constituency and the Congress has also deployed its workers to maintain a vigil outside counting centres, AAP has red-flagged at least three episodes in different parts of the state in the last 10 days to convey that the EVMs were not safe in Punjab.
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Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and AAP’s Dakha candidate HS Phoolka led a delegation to meet the Chief Election Commissioner in Delhi on Tuesday.
“We informed the CEC about our issue. He assured us he would send a team to Punjab to look into what was happening,” Phoolka told The Indian Express.
Only on Monday, AAP candidate from Nabha Gurdev Singh Mann alleged that the authorities were shifting EVMs in trunks on the pretext of taking out some documents. He shot a video of the boxes carrying EVMs that was tweeted by Delhi Chief Minister and AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal alleging all was not well with EVMs in Punjab. But CEO authorities in Punjab said the EVMs being shifted were used in civic body elections in 2015 and were being taken away from the counting centre to make way for the new EVMs for March 11.
Punjab CEO V K Singh said, “The EVMs were not being moved out of the strong room. The strong room seal was not opened. These machines had been lying in the counting hall where space had to be created for counting. Since AAP objected to the same, it was stopped. However, it is clarified that the political parties were invited to be present at the moving of these old machines also by giving them prior notice.”
AAP leaders have also alleged that EVMs in Jalandhar were not protected by following the laid-out procedure.
To demonstrate this, AAP’s Phillaur candidate Saroop Singh Kadiana entered the outer premises of a strong room in Jalandhar with a weapon on Saturday. He was not checked until he volunteered to hand over the weapon to the police at the spot.
The police put under suspension a Punjab Police constable, Arpit Shukla, on Monday for dereliction in duty.
On February 6, Phoolka alleged that Returning Officer (RO) Gagandeep Singh Virk and eight others entered a strong room at Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) and spent half-an-hour there.
The inquiry by the administration into the allegations revealed that the strong room was not opened. But Phoolka was not convinced. “Why did they enter the premises? Is it a place for recreation?” he asked.
CEO Singh said they were making all necessary arrangements.
“The political parties are stakeholders and to satisfy them, we are willing to go the extra mile.” Meanwhile, Amarinder and AAP leader Bhagwant Mann hit out at each other on Tuesday over the issue.
Amarinder called AAP’s reaction “paranoia” since “Kejriwal was not able to accept the imminent defeat”.
“Every Tom, Dick and Harry in AAP was running to EC with a complaint. EC should have a procedure in place to penalise representatives of political parties if the complaints were found wrong.” Mann said Congress and Akali-BJP alliance had made all attempts to vitiate the environment and rig the polls and AAP had foiled all such attempts. He said March 11 would clear all “misconceptions of Capt Amarinder.”