New Delhi: With polling for the first phase of assembly elections held in Gujarat, the Congress on Thursday complained to the Election Commission over the security of electronic voting machines amid allegations that the Gujarat Police will be in charge of the machines after voting.
The Congress wrote to the EC seeking an investigation into the allegations of electoral fraud in Gujarat and cited reports that the Tripura State Rifles, which has been deployed for Gujarat polls, has been asked to maintain distance from polling booths post voting.
The Congress has alleged that the EVMs are being handled by the Gujarat Police and they will be in charge of securing these machines after polling is over.
"Post completion of polling process, the soldiers have additionally been directed not to accompany the electronic voting machines to their respective secured storage places, and that specifically two officers of the Gujarat Police will be in charge of securing the EVMs.
"If the above allegations are found to be true, an essential and fundamental feature of a democracy - conducting free and fair elections - shall be threatened. The use of police officers who are in direct control of the ruling party of the state cannot therefore be allowed to accompany the ballot boxes to their secure locations in the absence of a third neutral party (TSR soldiers)," the Congress said in its complaint to the EC.
"We urge you to kindly initiate a thorough investigation into these serious allegations of electoral fraud in the state of Gujarat threatening to violate the entire Indian democracy," the party said.
Congress spokesperson and head of the party's social media department, Supriya Shrinate, said several battalions of the Tripura State Rifles have been deployed in elections in Gujarat but it has been brought to the party's notice that a lot of these soldiers have been told not to go anywhere close to the polling booths.
The soldiers have also been told not to accompany the EVMs when they are taken to their storage places and officers of the Gujarat Police will accompany these machines, she said.
"This raises serious questions on the conduction of free and fair elections in Gujarat because the state police is under the state government and cannot be expected to be impartial," she told PTI.
"It is also weakening the very foundation on which our democracy is built.
Such news that has come out of Gujarat are deeply worrying.
The Congress party has indeed written to the Election Commission and approached it to ensure that an investigation is carried out as to who is giving these directions to the Tripura State Rifles and who is encouraging Gujarat Police instead to accompany the EVMs," Shrinate said.
AICC secretary and coordinator in the Congress president's office Pranav Jha said, "if such directions have indeed been given to the TSR battalions, it raises a serious doubt on the fairness of an election process, allowing the puppets of the ruling party to manipulate and illegally tamper with the ballot boxes".
"If this is happening, it tampers with the poll process and we have asked the Election Commission to investigate the matter," Jha told PTI.
He cited the complaint of EVMs being transported in private vehicles in Himachal Pradesh, against which the party also complained to the EC.
Jha said the EC must ensure that its directives are properly followed and there should be fair play in the conduct of elections so that the level-playing field is not disturbed.
The Congress earlier complained to the EC against the airing of "sponsored" opinion polls by some news channels ahead of first phase voting in Gujarat, claiming it was a brazen attempt to influence the electorate. The EC has taken the complaint seriously as the opinion polls were aired in violations of the rules.