Thanks to Ravindra Waikar, ECI has another 'EVM scandal' to explain

Mumbai North West Shiv Sena candidate Waikar won the Lok Sabha election by a mere 48 votes. Do we now know why?

Ravindra Waikar with party supporters (photo: @RavindraWaikar/X)
Ravindra Waikar with party supporters (photo: @RavindraWaikar/X)

A.J. Prabal

A police complaint lodged by an Election Commission of India (ECI) official on Friday, 14 June at Mumbai's Vanrai police station appears to have added a whole new angle to the ongoing controversy about electronic voting machines (EVMs) used int he recent Lok Sabha elections, to the ECI's embarrassment.

Reports appearing in Sunday-Midday suggest that the police have sent a phone for forensic examination and called for CCTV footage from inside the NESCO counting centre in Goregaon East, part of the Mumbai North West Lok Sabha constituency. The losing Shiv Sena (UBT) candidate had demanded access to the CCTV footage on the counting day of 4 June itself, but the request was denied by the returning officer.

Phones are not allowed inside counting centres, except in the case of portal operators, the returning officer and a handful of ECI officials. In case of the NESCO centre, portal operator Dinesh Gurav has been accused of handing over his phone — connected to an EVM and reportedly bearing an OTP used to unlock an EVM — to a relative of winning Shiv Sena candidate Ravindra Waikar.

Several candidates submitted a written complaint on 4 June and demanded a police investigation, which was declined. It is not clear why a police complaint was finally filed 10 days later by the assistant returning officer. The delay raises suspicions that evidence such as CCTV footage, fingerprints, and call records could have been tampered with.

Both Waikar's relative Mahesh Pandilkar and Gurav have recorded their statements with the police, and are said to be cooperating with the investigation. With the ruling party in Maharashtra involved, it is doubtful how far the police investigation will go. However, the complaint has revived the controversy around manipulations possible in the EVM.

“You need 110 mobile phones & 220 corrupt babus and three election commissioners to hack or hijack 110 seats,” exclaimed a Mumbai-based journalist. A fellow Mumbai-based journalist tweeted, “Mumbai North West Lok Sabha result’s mystery continues to unfold every passing day. The elected Shiv Sena (Shinde) Lok Sabha candidate Ravindra Waikar’s relative (brother-in-law) used the phone that was found with the ECI EVM operator. This same phone was used to get OTP.

"CCTV also missing… the Shiv Sena (UBT) candidate Amol Kirtikar was ahead. Shinde Sena insisted on recounting. Once counting is done & rejection order is issued, the Returning Officer has no right to recount the votes; yet it was done but Mr Kirtikar was still ahead. Then, it was requested to recount the postal ballots. During scrutiny, several postal ballots were declared invalid. Waikar was still trailing by a few votes. It is alleged that the postal ballots declared invalid were counted and eventually Waikar was declared the winner by 48 votes.”

Once the result is declared, the losing candidate can merely file an election petition in the high court, which is required to give its verdict within six months. However, several election petitions in the past have dragged on for years, sometimes as long as five years.

Noted journalist Raju Parulekar posted on Sunday, “Since it has been alleged that a computer assistant viz. Dinesh Gurav erred by handing over his device to a candidate’s relative, the entire data entry work done by him throughout the counting day is suspect and should be reverified (according to guidelines of procedure issued by the Election Commission).

"Computer assistants have the authority to enter and re-enter the data by obtaining OTPs and such verifications on their registered mobile numbers. The role of the RO who confirmed Dinesh Gaurav’s data entry of the Votes in ENCORE, the counting portal, should also be verified as this RO has a controversial past record.”

Priyanka Chaturvedi, Rajya Sabha member and Shiv Sena (UBT) spokesperson, pointed out, “It is the right of the candidates to seek CCTV footage of the counting day and yet it was denied by the Mumbai Suburban district collector to Amol Kirtikar ji, who the EC claims has lost by 48 votes…the announcements about counting of votes stopped after the 18/19th round, the counting process also was stopped for some time….” She too demanded an investigation.

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