Debating India

A violent turn in the third phase

Saturday 25 September 1999, by VENKATESAN*V.

MORE than half the electorate has voted by the end of the third phase of polling in the five-phase Lok Sabha elections, scheduled to end on October 3. The second phase on September 11 and the third phase on September 18 recorded moderate polling, with so me major incidents of violence.

An estimated 56.22 per cent of the 15.23 crore voters in Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu voted in the second phase, which covered 123 constituencies. Assembly elections in Mahara shtra and Karnataka were also completed in this phase. The first phase on September 5 had recorded a voter turnout of 58.17 per cent.

In the trouble-torn regions of Jammu and Kashmir, Jammu registered 45 per cent polling, Udhampur 35 per cent and Srinagar 11.96 per cent. Cross-border firing did not deter a significant number of voters in the State. Maharashtra’s Minister of State for R evenue Udayan Raje Bhosle, the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate for the Satara Assembly seat, was arrested in connection with the murder of a Nationalist Congress Party activist. The Election Commission (E.C.) ordered repolling in 80 booths (14 in Madhya Pradesh, two in Kerala, 22 in Andhra Pradesh, 19 in Tamil Nadu, three in Karnataka, and 20 in Rajasthan) after the second phase.

The BJP complained to the E.C. about "booth capturing" in Hyderabad, besides in Kota, Dausa and Jhalawar in Rajasthan. In the Siripur Assembly seat in Andhra Pradesh, polling was postponed after the Telugu Desam Party candidate, P. Purushottam Rao, was k illed by suspected naxalites.

The third phase of polling covered 76 Lok Sabha seats in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Baramulla in Jammu and Kashmir. Polling also took place in 97 Assembly constituencies in Andhra Pradesh. Elections to the Hoshangabad and Vi disha Lok Sabha constituencies in Madhya Pradesh were postponed from September 18 to September 28 because of incessant rain and flooding.

The average voting in the third phase was 53 per cent. Electronic voting machines were used in four constituencies - Bhopal, Allahabad, Kanpur and Agra. Andhra Pradesh registered 61 per cent polling, followed by 57.5 per cent in Bihar, 51 per cent in Utt ar Pradesh, 45 per cent in Madhya Pradesh. Baramullah recorded a voter turnout of 27 per cent.

Bihar and Uttar Pradesh joined the polling process only in the third phase. Bihar witnessed massive violence, engineered by naxalites (story on page 27). A Congress(I) leader was stabbed to death in Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh. Rastriya Rifles ja wans killed two militants who had allegedly tried to intimidate voters in Baramullah.

The E.C. planned a month-long polling exercise in order to facilitate the movement of Central paramilitary forces from one State to another to ensure peaceful elections. However, critics said that the phased elections probably helped violent groups move from one place to another.

Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill, who had expressed satisfaction over the peaceful conduct of the first and second phases of polling, was at a loss to explain the violence that marked the third phase. He claimed that most deaths in Bihar were caused by landmine blasts and were linked to socio-ideological conflicts.

In response to a complaint from the BJP and the Samata Party that an excessive number of ballot papers had been printed in Bihar, the E.C. despatched two special teams, one each to Calcutta and Patna, to verify allegations of large-scale printing and dis tribution of duplicate ballot papers. Quoting the Director of the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.), Samata Party president and Union Defence Minister George Fernandes alleged that 65,000 duplicate ballot papers meant for Barh and Nalanda (from where Samata Par ty leaders Nitish Kumar and George Fernandes were contesting) had been printed at the West Bengal government-owned Saraswathi Press in Calcutta. However, Fernandes’ claim that the I.B. Director had confirmed his charges was denied by the Union Home Minis try. His indiscretion in dragging a senior official into the controversy for partisan ends was widely criticised.

The acting Governor of Bihar, Justice B.M. Lal, asked the E.C. to transfer civilian and police officials whose actions were suspect and to deploy adequate forces in sensitive areas. The acting Governor reportedly blamed the E.C. for not taking adequate m easures to prevent the large-scale violence that took place on September 18. He also expressed dissatisfaction over Election Commissioner G.V.G. Krishna-murthy’s claim that there were no fake ballot boxes. Justice Lal is due to retire as the Chief Justic e of the Patna High Court on October 6. Even Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee cast doubts about the E.C.’s role in the "fake ballot boxes" controversy.

Meanwhile, the BJP had a difficult time fielding a candidate in Anantnag, Jammu and Kashmir. Dr. Abdul Rehman Sheikh was named the BJP candidate to replace Ghulam Haider Noorani, who was killed in a landmine blast on September 7. Barely 24 hours after he was nominated, Sheikh’s son was kidnapped and he refused to contest. Sheikh paid a hefty ransom for his son’s release. The BJP then announced Showkat Hussein Wani, who was allegedly linked to the kidnapping, as its candidate in Anantnag. Showkat filed h is nomination papers. Anantnag will go to the polls on October 4.

See online : Frontline

P.S.

Volume 16 - Issue 20, Sep. 25 - Oct. 08, 1999

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