Both TDP and YSRCP have complained to election authorities on the issue.

BJP leader Ratna Prabha Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan and TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu
news Tirupati Bye-election Saturday, April 17, 2021 - 16:13

Soon after polling for the Tirupati Lok Sabha bye-election commenced on Saturday, the main opposition parties in Andhra Pradesh, BJP and TDP, have alleged that the ruling YSRCP has brought in hundreds of fake voters from outside the constituency to impersonate genuine voters at the polling booths. In a letter to the Chief Electoral Officer of Andhra Pradesh, TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu cited multiple alleged instances where YSRCP workers reportedly ferried people in buses into Tirupati parliamentary constituency from neighbouring areas in Chittoor district. 

Naidu also wrote to the Election Commission of India on Saturday afternoon, alleging inaction from local election authorities and demanding re-polling in the Tirupati Assembly segment. The Tirupati Lok Sabha constituency comprises seven Assembly constituencies — Tirupati, Srikalahasti and Satyavedu in Chittoor district and Sarvepalli, Guduru, Sullurupeta and Venkatagiri in Nellore district.

Naidu also alleged that police arrested TDP leaders who tried to block bogus voters. He alleged that police illegally arrested TDP's 47th division president Venkateswarlu and 50th division president Venkata Ratnam in Tirupati, along with many others, and demanded their immediate release. 

Several videos are being circulated by the opposition parties as “evidence” of bogus voters being brought in to cast votes. In one video, a woman, when asked to name her husband, mentioned a name different from the one written on her voter ID. In another video, when a man standing in the voters’ queue was asked to name his father after withholding his voter ID, refused to do so, asking the inquirer to refer to the voter ID for the name. In another video, voters were seen unable to tell their house number without looking at the voter ID. 

Naidu alleged that these people were being brought in to impersonate genuine voters who are either absent or dead. In retaliation, the YSRCP has complained to the Election Commission of India (ECI) that the TDP was trying to mislead voters by falsely accusing Tirumala pilgrims to  be fake voters. 

Naidu, in his letter to the CEO of Andhra Pradesh, alleged that “the PLR Convention Centre and several other areas in Tirupati are acting as the epicentre for harbouring YSRCP goons and henchmen from outside to vitiate the poll process.” In a video from the news channel ABN Andhra Jyothi, TDP leaders and workers claimed to have obstructed a bus ferrying alleged fake voters. Many of the passengers, however, told the reporter that they were residents of a nearby village on a sponsored pilgrimage to the temple town of Srikalahasti. The channel also aired interviews of people who claimed to be genuine voters, alleging that authorities told them their vote had already been cast without proper verification.  

In his letter to the ECI, YSRCP state General Secretary Lella Appi Reddy wrote that TDP leaders had stopped a group of devotees who had stopped for breakfast on their way to Tirumala, and “created ruckus and nuisance” near PLR Convention Centre “by trying to forcibly pull out the devotees alleging them to be bogus voters.” He also alleged that the media establishments supportive of the TDP were telecasting the news with false allegations in an attempt to mislead and create fear among the public. 

He sought action against Naidu as well as local TDP leaders former MLA Sugunamma and former TUDA (Tirupati Urban Development Authority) Chairman G Narasimha Yadav. “If there is any truth about the allegations of bogus voters they would have identified at the polling stations through their agents,” Appi Reddy said. 

Naidu claimed in his complaint that “YSRCP henchmen are preventing TDP election agents from entering the booths in various places.” He also wrote that “absentees/shifted/dead voters were identified by the ruling YSRCP through government paid village/ward volunteers and village/ward secretariat  staff.” Prior to the bye-election, Chittoor District Collector Hari Narayanan had said that ward and village volunteers had been kept away from the poll process, as per Election Commission of India guidelines. 

Naidu also enclosed a few photographs of alleged fake voter IDs and voter slips that TDP leaders allegedly found on people being ferried in buses towards various polling booths. 

BJP-Jana Sena candidate Ratna Prabha, a retired bureaucrat and former Karnataka Chief Secretary, as well as TDP candidate Panabaka Lakshmi, a former Union Minister, also made similar allegations. Both of them were seen questioning alleged fake voters at polling booths. 

Left parties including CPI and CPM led a protest on Saturday afternoon condemning the irregularities in the election process, accusing the YSRCP of “destroying democracy.”

The ruling YSRCP has fielded M Gurumoorthy, the family physiotherapist for Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and his family members. In total, there are 25 contestants competing for the seat. 

Polling began at 7 am and will go on till 7 pm. As many as 17.1 lakh voters are expected to exercise their franchise in 2,470 polling stations. Twenty-three companies of central forces have been roped in to provide security for the smooth conduct of the bye-poll. Authorities have identified 877 polling stations as sensitive, which will be guarded by the central forces, even as 37 flying squad teams have also been deployed for the election.

The ECI has appointed three observers for the bye-poll: Dinesh Patil as ordinary observer, Rajeev Kumar (police observer) and Anand Kumar. In  addition, 816 micro-observers have been appointed.

Meanwhile, Andhra Pradesh Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) K Vijayanand ordered Chittoor and Nellore district officials to ensure that no poll violations occur in the high octane Tirupati bye-election. Vijayanand said that he spoke to the District Collectors, superintendents of police (SPs) and returning officers as many Telugu news channels are telecasting that allegedly fake votes are being polled. He said that the election must happen in a peaceful environment and directed officials to take strict action on bogus voters.

(With IANS inputs)

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