A woman clad in a peach sari and green blouse is seen casting her vote at booth number 19 in Pilathara in Kannur district and under Kasaragod Lok Sabha Constituency. A few minutes later, the same woman is seen standing in the queue of voters at the same booth, and voting again. After her first vote, the woman can also be seen removing the indelible ink within seconds of its application on her index finger.
This is one of the CCTV videos released by the Congress-led UDF in Kerala to support their allegations of bogus voting in the state on polling day – April 23. Another visual shows a woman (in blue dupatta) handing over an identification card to a person standing near the queue, before heading towards the EVM machine to cast a vote. The Congress has claimed that at least six other people have also cast fake votes in Kannur district, without any identification documents – alleging collusion between polling officials, police, and CPI(M).
NP Saleena, who voted in booth number 17, Sumayya TP, who voted in booth 24, M Krishnan from Kadannappally panchayat are some of those who cast their vote in booth 19 as well, the party said.
However, the CPI(M) mouthpiece Deshabhimani has denied the allegations, and has claimed instead that the videos show ‘open votes’. The newspaper said that Saleena and Sumayya came forward to show the indelible ink mark on the fingers of both hands to show that their votes were ‘open votes’. The report says that Saleena, who is also a Cheruthazham panchayat member, after casting her own vote at booth number 17, went to booth number 19, which was in the same building, as a companion to the 29th voter there, Nafeesa, for an “open vote”. Similarly, two booth agents - Sumayya (former panchayat member) and M Krishnan - too, cast ‘open votes’ allegedly per the request of voters C Shanta and Krishnan, it says.
‘Open voting’ is a concept – used in Rajya Sabha elections in India – where political parties can nominate election agents who can check who their party MLAs are voting for. However, ‘open voting’ cannot be used for Lok Sabha elections, where citizens are promised a ‘secret ballot’ – no one can ask or find out which candidate/party one has voted for.
Deshabhimani seems to have mixed up the terminologies ‘open vote’ and ‘companion vote’.
Kerala Chief Election Officer (CEO) Teeka Ram Meena said, “A ‘companion vote’ is when, if the voter is visually impaired or has a physical disability that prevents them from voting without assistance, a companion can cast a vote for them. The person accompanying will have to give a declaration for the same to the Returning officer.”
The CEO has sought a detailed report from the Kannur and Kasaragod District Collectors to find out the truth in the matter. "If these (allegations) are found to be true, this is a serious matter. A fake vote cannot be cast without the knowledge of an official at the booth. So, we need to see if there was any lapse from the part of any officials. Booth agents, too, are equally at fault,” he told Asianet.
Speaking to TNM, Kasaragod District Collector Sajith Babu said a joint report with Kannur District Collector will be submitted to the CEO. “We have to summon the parties concerned, the voters in question and then do a detailed inquiry. It will take at least two to three days and is too early to reveal any details,” he said.
The reason why the bogus voting got exposed was because web cameras were used in 1,857 booths in Kannur district alone. The Kannur administration had live cast these visuals on screens and people were assigned to monitor it. Also, anyone with the streaming link could access the webcast.
The Congress meanwhile has decided to approach the Kerala High Court with the CCTV visuals and the webcast live visuals as evidence, according to reports.
Calling the electoral system in the constituency “flawed”, Congress leader Raj Mohan Unnithan, the UDF candidate from Kasaragod, told Asianet that the District Collector, Presiding Officer, and the police were colluding with each other. “In some booths, a few CPI(M) workers beat up our booth agents in front of the police and the Presiding Officer. They did not intervene or take action,” he told Asianet, adding that he also had the footage of KC Ragunath, a trader in Pilathara town in Kannur, overseeing the process of fake votes in the booth.
Incidentally, Kannur saw the highest voter turnout at 83.05%, followed by Kasaragod at 80.57%.
Communist Party of India (Marxist), which has a strong foothold in Kasaragod, fielded KP Satheesh Chandran, a household name in the constituency. Hoping to get votes from linguistic minorities in the northern parts of the district, the BJP fielded Ravish Tantri Kuntar, a temple priest, from the constituency.