As Faridabad went to polls on May 12 with the rest of Haryana, 23-year-old Vivechana, a Dalit from Asaoti village, made her way to the polling booth at the Government High School to vote for the first time. She waited in the queue for about an hour before walking into booth number 88.
And while she looked for the BSP’s elephant symbol on the EVM, Giriraj Singh, the BJP polling agent at the booth, walked up and pressed the button next to the BJP’s ‘lotus’ symbol. A video of this act surfaced Sunday on social media, prompting an Election Commission probe.
“I was shocked. I asked him why he had taken my vote and pressed the button but he said now it is done and walked back to his table. I tried to press the button for the BSP but the vote had already gone,” she said.
Since then, multiple videos of men allegedly trying to “influence” voters at this polling booth have surfaced. After the EC probe, Singh was arrested and re-polling ordered at the polling station on May 19. While Singh has denied the charges, police have also booked a separate case after a second video emerged showing another man also allegedly influencing voters.
A BJP polling agent has been arrested by Palwal Police for trying to influence voters at a polling booth in Asaoti, which falls under the Faridabad Lok Sabha constituency, on Sunday. @IndianExpress pic.twitter.com/bjksDe7pdm
— Sakshi Dayal (@sakshi_dayal) May 13, 2019
The poll panel has also suspended the booth’s presiding officer Amit Atri and micro-observer and appointed a new returning officer to conduct the re-poll on May 19.
In the first video, Singh is seen rushing into the polling booth when three women, including Vivechana, walked in to cast their vote. Police have since approached the three women seen in the video, who have all said that their votes were cast by others.
“I came back and told my brother-in-law about what had happened but we did not take it up further. The incident happened in front of other officials at the booth, which means they were also involved, so who would we go to?” said Vivechana.
And she was not the only one at booth number 88, which comprises 1,222 voters – 657 men and 565 women. Shobha, another Dalit woman seen in the video, alleged Singh tried to “suggest” she vote for the BJP.
“I went to vote around 10.30 am. When I walked into the booth, Giriraj came and pointed to the lotus symbol, telling me to press the button next to it. I told him he was nobody to tell me who to vote for, and I would vote for who I wanted. I pressed the button next to the elephant and came out. It was only later in the day that I heard he had behaved similarly with other people,” said Shobha.
A third voter, Vidya, who is also a Dalit, said her vote was “snatched” from her and that there was always a certain amount of “political pressure” on her community in the village, which is largely dominated by Rajputs.
“All of us have been voting for the BSP for several years, and this is a well-known fact. There is always some pressure, but this kind of thing has never happened before. The men at the booth knew who we would vote for, and that is why they targeted us. They did the same thing with my sister-in-law as well,” said Vidya.
According to Vidya, it was not BJP polling agent Giriraj Singh who pressed the button that sent her vote in favour of the BJP but Vijay Rawat, another resident of the village who, his brothers claim, is the President of the Yuva Rajputana Sangathan, and is also associated with the BJP.
“I went inside the booth to cast my vote but Vijay came and pressed the button for the lotus before I could do so. This was not correct, voting is our right, who are they to decide who we should vote for? How can we get facilities and development in our homes when we are not even being allowed to vote for who we want?” she said.
“I did not complain because I did not want to take the risk. We are a small community here, I have a daughter who is in college and a son who is working, I was afraid of the repercussions,” she said.
Police said Rawat, whose family owns a shop in the village, was identified as the person trying to influence voters in a second video, which surfaced Monday afternoon. In the video, a person dressed in a white shirt and black trousers, who police have identified as Rawat, is seen thrusting his arm through the enclosure and pointing to a button on the machine, trying to influence a voter.
“We identified Vijay Rawat from the video and have registered an FIR against him and the Presiding Officer Amit Atri. It seems Rawat had gone to the station to cast his vote when this happened. Both he and the Presiding Officer are being arrested,” said Sub Inspector Kuldeep Singh, SHO of Sadar Palwal police station.
An FIR was filed based on a complaint by the Assistant Returning Officer. “… at the end, a man who looked like the Sarpanch of Asaoti.was seen walking out of the door,” it states adding that the sarpanch was summoned and he confirmed he was in the video.
Rawat’s brother, who did not want to be named denied the allegations. He said: “These are all false rumours being spread by people from the Dalit community. My brother did not influence or press buttons for anyone else. He is politically active and this is a conspiracy to taint him.”
The sarpanch of the village, Kanchind Pehelwan, reiterated this point, stating, “There is no friction between communities in our village, everyone stays peacefully. The voters in these cases did not understand how to use the machines, and Giriraj and Vijay were simply trying to help them. This is a pre-planned conspiracy to frame them.”
“Elections are the only chance we get to decide our future. It should not have been taken from us. This kind of thing happens in a lot of places, but fortunately, someone here caught it on camera and now justice will be done. We will definitely go to the booth again on Sunday to finally cast our vote,” said Vidya.