Amid high drama and a prolonged re-examination of votes, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader CK Ramamurthy was declared the winner from Jayanagar constituency in Karnataka’s Bengaluru against Congress’s incumbent MLA Sowmya Reddy by a narrow margin of 16 votes. The results were announced only around midnight on Saturday, May 13 at the counting centre in SSMRV PU College, where hundreds of Congress and BJP supporters had gathered. Jayanagar is located in southern Bengaluru and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s roadshow went through five out of seven wards in this constituency. Sowmya was the only woman MLA from Bengaluru in 2018.
As the Congress gets set to contest the result legally, both parties have taken to social media with their version of what transpired inside the counting centre. Much of the Congress’s ire is directed towards two people – BJP MP Tejasvi Surya and the Election Commission (EC) Observer Sameer Verma.
TNM was outside the counting centre and spoke to several people, and pieced together a timeline of events.
Around 2 pm on Saturday, it appeared that Sowmya Reddy had won by a slender margin at the end of 16 rounds of counting. No official declaration was made by the EC but the victory was assumed as Sowmya had 294 votes more than Ramamurthy as per the EC’s official website. However, a recount had become mandatory at this stage as the victory margin was lower than the number of postal ballots. ECI rules state that if the victory is being decided only on account of postal ballot counting, a mandatory re-verification is needed. In the presence of the Observer and Returning Officer, all the postal ballot papers rejected as invalid as well as the votes counted in favour of each and every candidate shall once again be verified and tallied.
Sources at the counting centre told TNM that there were three separate examinations done but the result of the election was withheld. At this time, Jayanagar was the only constituency in the state where the results were yet to be declared.
Around 7 pm, the drama intensified after videos emerged showing BJP MP Tejasvi Surya and MLA R Ashoka at the counting centre. The Congress has also alleged that the poll observer was in touch with Tejasvi and demanded CCTV footage from the counting centre.
Hundreds of BJP and Congress supporters gathered on either side of the road leading to the counting centre, and police personnel were deployed preventing access to the centre. Congress leaders DK Shivakumar and DK Suresh, who were holding a joint press conference celebrating their election win in the state, rushed to the Jayanagar counting centre at 8.45 pm.
While DK Shivakumar was stopped outside the gates, DK Suresh approached the gate angrily remonstrating against police officers deployed there. He further shook the gates of the counting centre and demanded to be allowed inside. Following this, the Congress leaders sat down outside the gates and spoke to media persons questioning the EC over the delay in declaring the result. The only leaders inside the counting centre at this time were the candidates – Sowmya Reddy and CK Ramamurthy.
After over three hours, around midnight, CK Ramamurthy emerged from inside the counting centre and waved at his supporters. Official confirmation came soon after that Ramamurthy was declared the winner by 16 votes, triggering celebrations and fireworks from BJP supporters while Congress supporters protested against the decision. Sowmya Reddy left the counting centre without speaking to reporters.
The main allegation by the Congress is that after the first mandatory recounting, Sowmya still had more votes than Ramamurthy. The party has alleged that the EC Observer stepped out at this time, came back, and said that around 200 non-gazetted postal votes that were rejected in the first recount had to be counted again. When this recounting happened, Sowmya was trailing by 16 votes. She then asked for a recount and again Ramamurthy was ahead with 16 votes.
The Congress alleges that this lead was secured by Ramamurthy only because postal votes that were not in the right format were added to the BJP’s tally, while similar postal ballot votes for the Congress were not added. According to ECI’s instructions, whenever such re-verification/recounting is done, the entire proceeding should be videographed without compromising the secrecy of the ballot and the video cassette/CD must be sealed in a separate envelope for future reference.
The BJP meanwhile has said that the recounting was done at the behest of the Congress and accused Congress leaders of barging into the counting centre.
The BJP has asked why Ramalinga Reddy, Sowmya’s father, who won from the BTM Layout constituency, was at the counting centre around 5.30 pm. Ramalinga Reddy said that he came to the centre to collect his certificate. It is to be noted here that the same counting centre was used for counting the votes of the BTM Layout and Padmanabhanagar constituencies. Technically, R Ashoka, who won from Padmanabhanagar, Ramalinga Reddy, who won from BTM Layout, CK Ramamurthy and Sowmya Reddy, who contested from Jayanagar, could be present at the counting centre.
The question being raised by the Congress is why was BJP MP Tejasvi there? Visuals from the counting centre show R Ashoka and Tejasvi walking down the stairs as the MP spoke on the phone. In another visual, the MP was seen sitting right outside the counting centre on the second floor along with R Ashoka and CK Ramamurthy.
For the BJP, the Jayanagar constituency is a matter of pride since it falls in the south Bengaluru region where the party is traditionally dominant. Prime Minister Narendra Modi extensively campaigned in southern Bengaluru in the run-up to the elections. After the results were declared late on Saturday night, Tejasvi Surya paid tribute to BN Vijaya Kumar, the former BJP MLA from the constituency who died in May 2018 following a cardiac arrest. The win means the BJP has won 66 seats in the 224-member Karnataka Assembly. The Congress has won 135 seats and is set to form the government in the state.
Watch TNM live from Jayanagar as the event was unfolding