After a keenly fought election that saw a resurgent Congress take on the BJP which has been in power for the last 15 years, Madhya Pradesh clocked a high turnout of nearly 75 per cent on Wednesday.
The Election Commission said the turnout was 74.6 per cent (at 6 pm), with counting for nearly 250 booths left. EVMs and VVPAT machines malfunctioned at many places and polling was disrupted, for as much as three hours at some places.
The turnout in 2013 was 72.13, and 69.78 and 67.25 in 2008 and 2003, respectively.
In record turnout, some complaints and a poll story
Unofficially, the Election Commission had set a turnout target of 80%, but Wednesday’s figure of 74.6% is high enough — the highest, in fact, that Madhya Pradesh has registered in recent times. The election is crucial for both the BJP and Congress — not just for control of the state, but also for the big 2019 battle. Both parties have their interpretations of the high turnout; what it implies will only be known on December 11, however. What is interesting though, is the fact that it was the ruling BJP that levelled the more serious allegations of irregularities — which included accusing the police of looking the other way as anti-social elements terrorised voters. The Congress, by contrast, complained only of faulty EVM and VVPAT machines — 883 ballot units, 881 control units and 2,126 VVPAT machines were replaced.
Chief Electoral Officer V L Kantha Rao told reporters that 883 ballot units, 881 control units and 2,126 VVPATs were changed after complaints of malfunction. He said the percentage of malfunctioning units was lesser in the Chhattisgarh election, but more in Karnataka and Gujarat polls.
The CEO and senior bureaucrats had to stand in queue for some time due to a malfunctioning machine at a booth. He, however, played down the incident.
While the Congress demanded repoll in booths where voting was disrupted for more than three hours, the CEO said no decision had been taken in this regard. He said a call would be taken by reviewing reports late at night.
The ruling BJP, too, demanded repoll in areas where polling was delayed by three hours or more. Both the Congress and BJP said most complaints about malfunctioning units were received from Satna district. A delegation of BJP also demanded repoll in Bhind district, alleging that the police turned silent spectators as voters were chased away by “anti-social elements” and polling could not be conducted in an impartial manner across the district.
Baihar, Lanji and Paraswada constituencies in Maoist-affected Balaghat district registered a turnout of 78.05, 79.07 and 80.05 per cent, respectively. Polling in these constituencies was held between 7 am and 3 pm.
One official each died of natural causes during poll duty in Guna, Indore and Dhar districts. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and state Congress chief Kamal Nath have condoled the deaths.
The EC said no incident of violence was reported in any part of the state.
Senior Congress leaders Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia complained to the EC in Delhi and Bhopal after initial reports of delay in polling and malfunctioning of EVMs.
“The rate at which EVMs machines are malfunctioning is alarming,’’ Scindia said in a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner, claiming that complaints were coming mostly from rural areas where voters were not sufficiently aware to seek redressal of grievances.
State Congress chief Nath said that at many places, polling was stopped for three or more hours. “Once the process is stopped, many voters don’t return to cast votes,’’ he said, demanding repoll in such booths.
Quoting a district magistrate, he said even the replaced machines were faulty and machines had to be brought from other areas, leading to further delay. Refusing to call it rigging, he said voters were inconvenienced and machines should not have malfunctioned in such large numbers if they were properly checked.
Sounding confident of victory, he claimed that the high turnout meant that people have voted against the government. He claimed the Opposition party would win more than 140 seats in the 230-member Assembly because people have voted to secure their future.
Chief Minister Chouhan praised voters for showing enthusiasm. BJP vice-president Vinay Sahasrabuddhe told The Indian Express that BJP is an organisation-centric party. “Right from the beginning, we started mobilising voter at the booth level and it has paid off. The increase in voter turnout is a result of booth-level mobilisation.”