About 64.29% polling was recorded in the bye-poll to the Tirupati (SC) Lok Sabha constituency in Andhra Pradesh on Saturday, even as opposition parties alleged large-scale casting of bogus votes and sought cancellation of the election. The Election Commission said 10,99,784 of the total 17,10,699 voters in the constituency exercised their franchise, according to PTI. The constituency had seen a turnout of 78.9% in the 2019 general elections. The turnout of 64.29% was seen on Friday despite the surge in COVID-19 cases.
Satyavedu (SC) Assembly recorded the highest 72.68% polling, followed by Sullurupeta (SC) 70.93%, Srikalahasti 67.77%, Sarvepalli 66.19%, Guduru (SC) 63.81% and Venkatagiri 61.50%. Tirupati recorded the lowest 50.58% polling, according to state Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) K Vijayanand. He said in a statement that the final figures on the polling percentage were yet to come as voters in queues, by the time of the scheduled close of poll (7 pm), were still allowed to exercise their franchise.
The TDP and BJP alleged that the YSRCP had ferried several bogus voters from outside the constituency to impersonate genuine voters who couldnâ€™t cast their vote. The state CEO earlier issued a statement saying he asked the District Collectors of SPS Nellore and Chittoor districts, in which the Tirupati Lok Sabha segment is spread, over to crackdown on bogus voters and ensure a fair poll.
State Director General of Police Gautam Sawang, however, claimed that the polling process continued in a "peaceful atmosphere" and everybody exercised their franchise "fearlessly." The opposition parties slammed the DGP over the statement and said it only reflected his loyalty towards the Chief Minister.
Polling began on a sedate note at 7 am on Saturday and in the first two hours only 7.8% votes were cast. It rose to 17.39% in the next two hours and went up to 54.99% by 5 pm, two hours before the scheduled close.
The opposition parties, Telugu Desam, BJP, Jana Sena and Congress, demanded that the bye-election be cancelled forthwith, alleging that the ruling YSR Congress instigated bogus voting on a large-scale, particularly in the temple town Tirupati.
The contesting candidates of TDP and BJP, Panabaka Lakshmi and K Ratna Prabha, themselves apprehended some bogus voters, carrying fake Voter ID cards in some polling booths in Tirupati and handed them over to the police.
Former MLA of Tirupati Sugunamma led a protest near the Tirupati Urban Police Superintendent's office after intercepting a bus, which was allegedly carrying several fake voters from other mandals with fake voter ID cards, according to TDP leaders. Congress candidate Chinta Mohan too alleged that the YSRC brought in thousands of people from other places to cast bogus votes in Tirupati.
State Panchayat Raj Minister Peddireddy Ramachandra Reddy, who camped in Tirupati, rubbished the opposition allegations and maintained that the YSRCP need not resort to such tactics as its victory in the bye-election was a certainty. He claimed that those stopped in buses were actually "pilgrims and tourists" who came to visit the Venkateswara Swamy temple. He, however, did not clarify why these people allegedly carried voter ID cards in bulk.
Talking to reporters, TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu lashed out at the ruling party as it "made a mockery of democracy". "Why do we need such elections? Bogus voters were brought in to Tirupati in hordes. How did the police allow them?" he asked. The former Chief Minister also wrote to the Chief Electoral Officer, seeking immediate action to prevent 'influx of outsiders' into Tirupati and bogus voting.
He sent another letter to the Chief Election Commissioner, demanding that a fresh poll be ordered in Tirupati Assembly segment in view of the 'gross violations' committed by the YSR Congress. "The YSRC brought thousands of outsiders, who impersonated deceased, migrated and absentee voters and cast votes using fake voter ID cards," he alleged.
A delegation of YSRCP leaders, led by MP N Suresh, met the CEO at the Secretariat and sought action against the TDP leaders for disturbing a peaceful election process. TDP general secretary Varla Ramaiah later submitted a petition to the CEO listing the 'violations' by the YSRC and presented video footage in support of his claims.