The first phase of voting in Tripura on April 11 was “vitiated” by “booth capturing” across seven assembly segments of the West Tripura Lok Sabha constituency, the Election Commission was told on April 17, a day after it deferred the second phase of polling for the East Tripura seat from April 18 to April 23.
West Tripura saw a triangular contest between Pratima Bhowmik (BJP), Subal Bhowmik (Congress) and Sankar Prasad Datta (CPM). Datta represented the seat from 2014 to 2019. In the 2018 assembly polls, BJP’s Bhowmik contested unsuccessfully against then Chief Minister Manik Sarkar from Dhanpur, part of the West Tripura Lok Sabha constituency.
A report prepared by West Tripura District Magistrate Sandeep Mahatme detailed the violations, ranging from “intimidating” voters to cast votes in favour of a particular candidate to polling agents casting votes of voters “multiple times”.
Mahatme, who submitted his report to the Election Commission, told The Indian Express that he has recommended registration of FIRs against those involved in booth capturing, the polling officers and presiding officers concerned.
“The polling agents and other persons stationed in the aforesaid polling stations as seen from pre-recorded video footage… committed an offence of ‘booth capturing’ as laid down in Section 135A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951,” Mahatme wrote, naming eight polling stations across seven assembly segments of West Tripura constituency.
Section 135A of the legislation details the types of violations that are considered booth capturing and stipulates that a person found guilty under it will be imprisoned for a term \which shall not be less than one year and may extend to three years, with fine. In case of government servants, imprisonment shall not be less than three years and may extend to five years.
The District Magistrate observed that having gone through video footage of the polling day, April 11, “it is apparent that the poll process was vitiated”.
The assembly segments named in the report are Mohanpur, Kamalsagar, Charilam (ST), Dhanpur, Kakraban-Shalgara, Rajnagar (SC) and Belonia. The first three are located very close to Agartala, the capital of Tripura. At Kamalasagar and Kakraban-Shalgara, polling agents were found “accompanying voters to the voting compartment multiple times”, the report stated. At Mohanpur, “polling agents were found intimidating voters to cast votes in favour of candidate” while in Belonia, “webcasting crew casted multiple votes and goes to the compartment several times”. Click here for more election news
The MO (micro observer) was seen to “facilitate,” it added, naming the particular polling stations along with the constituency names.
At the Brajapur polling station of Charilam, represented by Deputy Chief Minister Jishnu Debbarma, “three persons were constantly influencing the voters”.
The violations at Dhanpur, the report stated, included polling agents accompanying voters and “intimidating” and “one person entering the voting compartment three times”. At Rajnagar, “polling agents were found to cast votes of the voters multiple times without any authority”.
On April 16, the Election Commission deferred the second phase of polling in the state, scheduled for April 18, to April 23, observing that the atmosphere was “not conducive to the holding of free and fair poll”. The Opposition CPM and Congress welcomed the Commission decision while the ruling BJP accused the Opposition of “confusing” the poll panel.