The bypolls to eight assembly seats in Gujarat that was held on Tuesday saw an average voter turnout of 58.14 per cent and several complaints of model code of conduct violations, including one against Anjali Rupani, the wife of Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, and an incident of violence in Gadhada constituency.
Four FIRs were lodged, including two in Karjan constituency of Vadodara where the returning officer initiated an inquiry into allegations of cash being distributed to voters by BJP workers. In a separate case, cash alleged to be meant for the Congress candidate, was seized.
Except for Dangs, which saw 74.71 per cent turnout, beating its 2017 general election turnout of 73.7 per cent, the voter turnout in the remaining seven seats was significantly lower than the turnout in 2017. Covid-19 patients and suspects were allowed to vote in the last hour of polling.
The complaint filed by Congress against Anjali Rupani for allegedly campaigning with BJP workers during the polling process in Morbi where Congress turncoat Brijesh Merja is fighting on a BJP ticket, was disposed of as “the district collector of Morbi stated in his report that she was in Gandhinagar during the time of polls”, according to S Murali Krishna, Chief Electoral Officer of Gujarat.
The CEO got about 17 written complaints, most of which were disposed of. Dangs and Morbi saw one FIR each.
During the polling between 7 am and 6 pm in Abdasa and Morbi seats in Morbi district, Limbdi in Surendranagar district, Gadhada in Botad district, Dhari in Amreli district, Karjan in Vadodara district, Kaprada in Valsad district and Dangs in Dangs district, six ballot units and six control units that form part of an EVM were replaced. A total of 76 defective VVPATs were also replaced during the polling process.
The Returning Officer of Karjan Assembly Constituency in Vadodara set up an inquiry into the complaint of Congress candidate Kiritsinh Jadeja alleging “cash for votes” by the BJP candidate Akshay Patel. The complaint includes two videos purportedly showing the distribution of cash by “BJP workers” to voters ahead of the polling.
Meanwhile, the Karjan police arrested two persons carrying Rs 57,700 in cash at Ropa village in the constituency on Monday night. The two accused allegedly told police that the cash was meant for the Congress candidate. Jadeja, who visited Karjan taluka police station earlier in the day, denied the allegations and said, “The BJP is using all its antics because they know they are going to lose the seat. The voters will not forgive traitors who sold themselves off after getting public mandate.”
In his complaint against BJP candidate Patel, Jadeja said that the BJP tried to bribe voters by distributing cash in Itola and Kosindra areas, and demanded penal action against BJP candidate Akshay Patel and party workers seen in the video.
Returning officer of Karjan Assembly constituency, sub-divisional magistrate KR Patel, confirmed to The Indian Express that the election department has taken cognisance of the complaint from the Congress and initiated an inquiry into the allegations and the videos. “We have begun a probe as it is a serious matter. We received the complaint this morning,” Patel said.
It is not clear when the purported videos were filmed although in one of the two videos, men sporting saffron face masks were seen seeing off voters in an auto-rickshaw and handing over new Rs 100 notes to each of them, asking them to press “kamal ka button”. In another video, a group of workers is seen seeking votes for “kamal ka button” in a residential area, handing out cash to families after counting the number of voters.
Jadeja also filed another complaint with the EC stating that the party polling booth agent of booth number 198 from Sadhli block was being “unnecessarily and repeatedly” summoned by the police to ensure “his absence from the booth”.
Violence was reported in a polling booth in Nutan Kanya Vidyalaya in Gadhada. Purported videos of the incident showed workers pushing, punching and kicking as police tried to control them. “There was a scuffle at around 6 pm when the polling was about to close. We are seeking more information and ascertaining the identities of the persons involved,” said Vishal Gupta, district collector and district electoral officer of Botad.
Congress leader Babu Mangukiya alleged that bogus voting was done in that polling station in Gadhada and said that his party would demand a repolling. “It was an all-woman booth and our workers Kajal Makwana and Kajal Rathod prevented a man impersonating as one Rana Bharwad from voting, following which three men from Kathi Darbar community and a few others assaulted our worker Ramesh Rathod when he went to give water and snacks to our polling agents… Ramesh was beaten up with batons snatched from policemen, leaving him bleeding from his nose… his shirt was torn off… We are filing an FIR and will demand re-polling at his booth,” Mangukiya said.
The Congress leaders claimed that BJP’s Botad district unit president Suresh Godhani, his brother Kano and Gadhda municipality vice-president Budha Bharwad were among those who were present in the booth and were facilitating bogus voting. “Even the polling staff was hand-in-glove with the accused,” he added.
Dangs police on Tuesday registered an offence under IPC section 188 (violation of notification) against unknown persons who were standing near the polling stations at Bhesiya village near Ahwa. Some Congress leaders had intimated about presence of a group of persons who had parked three luxury cars bearing other district registration numbers near the polling station. Election department officials reached the spot by when the men had left. Ahwa police registered an offence on the bases of photos and videos, and started probe.
Meanwhile, the Congress party said it has filed six complaints, including one of booth capturing and “violent attacks” against Congress agents on Limbdi seat. HM Solanki, the returning officer (RO) for the Limbdi bypoll said the complaints were baseless and that the polling was peaceful.
The party also complained of polling agents in two booths in Kanthariya village and one in Bhensjal village being assaulted by BJP workers who were indulging in “bogus voting”.
The RO trashed these complaints and told The Indian Express, “These are baseless… No violence or booth-capturing has taken place. We have statements of Congress polling agents to the contrary. Allegations by the Congress candidate that my office acted in a biased manner are also unfounded as I was posted here very recently.”
Of the 18.75 lakh voters who were eligible to vote during the bypolls, around 10.74 lakh voters exercised their franchise on Tuesday, with turnout ranging between 45.74 per cent and 74.71 per cent. The seats won by the Congress in 2017 saw higher voter turnouts ranging between 59.9 per cent and 84.15 per cent. Dhari in Amreli saw the lowest turnout of 45.74 per cent. In 2017, Dhari had clocked 59.9 per cent turnout.
In Morbi, a BJP polling agent was booked for campaigning inside a polling station by distributing pamphlets, while three Congress workers were booked for alleged unthorised entry into the same polling station and recording video on their mobile phones.
The polls conducted amid the Covid-19 pandemic saw the Election Commission arranging 8,000 PPE kits to enable Covid patients and those suspected to be carrying the virus to vote between 5 pm and 6 pm. However, it was not clear how many of them cast their votes. Officials said no Covid patients voted in Dangs and Kaprada.
As many as 21 lakh polythene hand gloves, 41,000 face shields, 41,000 N95 face masks, 82,000 disposable face masks and 3,400 thermal guns were also made available for the polling process.
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