Explaining the buzz around ‘poll rigging’ in Madhya Pradesh

The Election Commission, which suspended the Balaghat SDM after complaints by the Congress, has taken no action against the DM, the chief electoral officer or the BJP

In this video grab shared by Madhya Pradesh Congress, election officials are seen opening postal ballots before the due date
In this video grab shared by Madhya Pradesh Congress, election officials are seen opening postal ballots before the due date

AJ Prabal

A day before the counting of votes on Sunday, all eyes were on the Madhya Pradesh bureaucracy and the Election Commission. Madhya Pradesh is the only state where the Balaghat district collector went on record to state that he was not aware when or how the strongroom, where EVMs and postal ballots were stored, was opened

In a video posted by state Congress chief and former chief minister Kamal Nath on X, some people were seen opening postal ballot boxes and rearranging ballot papers stored inside them. The district collector had claimed that postal ballots were only being sorted "assembly constituency-wise". The SDM assured that no tampering whatsoever was done with the postal ballots.

Madhya Pradesh BJP went to town, with its fact-checking unit ridiculing the apprehensions raised by the former CM. The party claimed no irregularity had been committed even as the collector issued a statement saying the strong room, created in the local tehsil office, was opened in the presence of authorised polling agents of political parties to segregate the incoming postal ballots.

The ballots coming in through the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETBPS) from various districts were segregated assembly-wise at 3.00 pm every day after opening the strong room, he had explained.

These statements would have been made with the knowledge and consent of the state chief electoral officer (CEO) Anupam Rajan. Even after a formal complaint was lodged, these officials had claimed there was only a "procedural lapse".

Following strong objections raised by the Congress and after a Congress delegation lodged a complaint in New Delhi with the Election Commission of India, an inquiry was ordered by the Jabalpur divisional commissioner.

As per the inquiry report, first the tehsildar and then the SDM were ‘suspended’ by the EC. The commission, however, has not acted against the collector or CEO. Neither has it come up with an explanation on the role of the authorised observer of the commission, in whose presence the strongroom should have been opened. No explanation either about the previous justifications given by the CEO and district collector.

MP is the only one of four states where counting is scheduled for today, 3 December (counting in the predominantly Christian state of Mizoram has been postponed until Monday) that the BJP has been in power. With the RSS entrenched in the state and with the BJP at the helm for the past 18 years, a section of the bureaucracy is alleged to have been politicised.

It is possibly the only state where a district collector went on record to state at an official event that the BJP government in the state would not be dislodged for the next 25 years. This is also the state where an SP and DM of a district attended an RSS event, saluted the RSS flag, and recited the official RSS prayer, pointed out veteran journalist and editor Dr Rakesh Pathak in a TV discussion. Indeed, this is the state where state government employees were encouraged by the BJP to attend RSS shakhas.

A minister in the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government was found guilty of violating provisions of the Representation of Peoples Act and was disqualified. But he obtained a stay and his petition in the Supreme Court has not been heard for the past five years.

This background explains the strong buzz about rigging triggered by a video message from Congress leader Kamal Nath for Congress workers to remain vigilant on counting day. The BJP, buoyed by several exit polls predicting that the party is on its way to retaining power, has dismissed the apprehensions. The Congress is merely preparing the ground for justifying its impending defeat, BJP leaders have said.

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