Andhra Pradesh is months away from a crucial Assembly election, and the General Elections in the country. As the poll pitch heats up, the ruling TDP and the main opposition, YSRCP, are embroiled in a major controversy, with each accusing the other of gaming the voter list in order to win the election. While the TDP has been accused of profiling voters using data from its Seva Mitra app, the YSRCP has been accused of trying to delete pro-TDP voters from the voter list by mass filing Form-7s online. The TDP has denied the allegations, while YSRCP has claimed they have filed Form-7s to delete “bogus voters” added to the list by the TDP in the first place.
But in all of this, what happens to the voters of Andhra? Have voters been added or deleted indiscriminately from the electoral roll, and if yes, how many?
The Election Commission on Sunday said that “mischievous attempts” have been made to delete voters en masse by using applying for Form-7 on behalf of the voter without their consent. It also filed complaints, based on which the Andhra Pradesh police have registered over 45 FIRs across the state. “Our people submitted the Form-7s,” Jagan said at a rally on Tuesday, but justified the action claiming his party was only targeting bogus voters. But the question arises – where did the YSRCP get this data on “bogus voters” from?
While the Election Commission’s Form-7 does have a category for people to enter the name of someone else to delete them from the electoral roll, Padmanabha Reddy from the Forum for Good Governance, says, "As per the Representation of People's Act, if someone wants to delete their name, they themselves or a person known to them, has to file a Form-7.”
“For the deletion of a name, there is a lengthy procedure prescribed. The officer has to visit the house and inquire with the voter or their neighbours before deletion takes place. This must happen," he says.
"The EC must enquire into each of these 7 lakh applications spread over 175 constituencies,” he adds.
“The deletion applications received constituency-wise can also be published in the newspaper or put up at the office of the Mandal Revenue Officer (MRO), so that people can come forward if they are genuine," Padmanabha suggests.
However, he also says that there is very little legal action that can be taken if a Form-7 is filed on someone else's behalf, except sections dealing with mischief. And even that, he says, is only relevant if the applicant is traced.
While it is unclear whether voter names have been deleted from the electoral roll on the basis of these forms, several citizens online have alleged that their names have been taken off the list. If that is the case, “then it is clear that due process has not been followed, which includes serving a notice to voters who may be deleted and then giving them enough opportunities to explain their position," says Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu from the Association for Democratic Reforms.
"The best antidote to all this, is more transparency,” he adds, “As long as the ECI doesn't come out and say what kind of voters were deleted if any, and why, along with the process that was followed, there will be ambiguity. They have to come clean as it is incumbent on them because they are an independent agency and a constitutional body."
"It is the voters who are suffering between this politics and drama. The allegations that the two parties are trading are raising several questions. Many of the answers come under the realm of the Election Commission. Irrespective of what Jagan and Naidu say, the EC has to examine the claims as a non-partisan constitutional body. The EC should speak out," says activist PL Vishweshwar Rao.
Referring to the case of Telangana where the Legislative Assembly elections held recently saw several voters agitated after their names went missing from the electoral roll, Vishweshwar Rao points out that the state Chief Electoral Officer, Rajat Kumar had to apologise and promise to rectify the list.
"He expressed regret but an apology after the elections is not important when such issues were already brought to your notice through media reports. The EC has a duty to investigate and find out the facts," he adds.
Meanwhile, the EC has said that they have written to the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) for ascertaining the IP addresses from where the forms were filed. However, it has not disclosed any information on how many bogus voters, if any, were identified.