Uttar Pradesh: Opposition on high alert as counting day looms

In a first, some Opposition parties have actually held workshops to train workers and polling agents on counting of votes

Chairs being transported to a counting centre in Rajasthan (photo: PTI)
Chairs being transported to a counting centre in Rajasthan (photo: PTI)

Asad Rizvi

On the eve of 'counting day' for the 2024 Lok Sabha election, the Opposition in Uttar Pradesh appears to be striking a cautious note, with teams of party activists camping outside counting centres to prevent any potential tampering during counting. A delegation of Opposition parties also visited the ECI headquarters Nirvachan Sadan in Delhi on Monday, demanding the election results not be declared before the postal ballots are counted.

In a first, some Opposition parties have actually trained their workers and polling agents on the counting of votes by conducting workshops and similar.

Apart from Opposition parties, farmers' bodies and civil society organisations have also been continuously pressuring the Election Commission of India (ECI) to prevent irregularities during the counting of votes.

Farmers' organisation Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) has written to the ECI asking it to share accurate details of votes with the public from time to time, so that there is no doubt about the counting of votes, while civil society bodies say the ECI's "altering of data" from time to time has raised questions about the commission's impartiality.

On the other hand, regarding counting of votes, Opposition parties say the work of counting will start only after the reconciliation of Form C17. Despite the scorching heat, Opposition party workers have been stationed outside counting centres in shifts, seemingly unaffected by exit poll predictions.

INDIA bloc candidate and Uttar Pradesh Congress president Ajay Rai, who has fought the election against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi, says Congress party workers are keeping an eye on counting centres and their 'strong rooms'. According to Ajay Rai, "every effort will be made" to help the BJP win the elections, but Congress workers are determined to not allow any "rigging" of the counting process.

Rai said there are reports of malfunctioning CCTV cameras in many places, which have been repaired after complaints. Explaining the preparations of the Congress, he said 8 to 10 workers have been deployed at each counting centre in shifts of 8-9 hours to avoid any "disturbance".

Police presence at a counting centre in Varanasi (photo: PTI)
Police presence at a counting centre in Varanasi (photo: PTI)

The state's main opposition Samajwadi Party has also instructed its party workers to be careful so that no irregularities occur during counting of votes, and SP leader Ameeque Jamei said exit poll results have not affected the morale of party workers and leaders, though the party doubts the vote counting will be fair.

Jamei says a message has been sent to all polling agents of the party that counting of votes should not begin without the reconciliation of Form 17C. Apart from this, he says 25-30 party workers are keeping vigil outside each counting station, so that no EVM can go in or out.

Samajwadi Party president and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav said in Lucknow on Monday that "a copy of Form 17C is with the agents, our party has all those forms in the office, because we knew that there may be a conspiracy by the BJP, so we made sure we had updated information from day one."

For those not in the know, a form is given to the presiding officer of every polling booth, which they must fill online. This has to be done immediately after the voting process is over.

This form shows how many people voted, how many did not come to vote, and how many were deemed ineligible to vote. It also states how many EVMs were used during voting, along with the number of control units and ballot units. This consolidates all voting-related data from a polling centre, leaving little or no scope for any error in the percentage of votes.

Meanwhile, Opposition parties have demanded that the ECI count the postal ballots first, before starting on EVM votes.

Lenin Raghuvanshi of civil society organisation Uttar Pradesh Election Watch says the credibility of the ECI has been negatively affected owing to the changing of data from time to time. This is the reason why people are now viewing the counting of votes "with suspicion", he feels.

Raghuvanshi also says the new government will have to work on changing the image of the ECI so democracy can remain strong in the future and ordinary people as well as political parties can maintain trust in the ECI.

Sanjay Singh of Association for Democratic Reform says people have doubts about the counting of votes, but this should not be the case, because it has a negative impact on the country's democracy. Explaining the reason for this scepticism, he says a perception has been created among voters that the BJP will win no matter who they vote for. Singh also says voters should not fear but trust the ECI, though he admits it is not wrong to keep an eye on the strong room.

On the other hand, SKM leader Ashish Mittal said in order to clear any doubts, as per rules, the ECI should share accurate details of votes with the public from time to time so that there is no possibility of any kind of manipulation. Mittal said the farmers' body wants the ECI to not give farmers and the people of India "any reason to believe that their popular mandate has been undermined by any element of improper conduct in any constituency".

Mittal added that if there are reports of violations of election rules, the EVI investigate them all, and take stern and strict action against those involved.

Uttar Pradesh chief electoral officer Navdeep Rinwa said counting of votes for the Lok Sabha general election 2024 will begin on 4 June 2024 at 8.00 am. Counting will be held at 81 centres in Agra, Meerut, Azamgarh, Deoria, Sitapur, and Kushinagar districts.

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