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Even as all seven phases of polling in India’s parliament elections were over and the results are awaited, AP’s Chandragiri Legislative Assembly constituency attracted attention.

It was a curious case where EVMs, photo ID cards, so many poll officials and observers from Centre and state, indelible thumb marks, videography etc were all there but rigging went on, unhindered, peacefully, with official collusion. Finally under bizarre circumstances, after the repoll on May 19, the  EC had to suspend10 Poll Officers for Dereliction of Duty.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi told 36 of his 39 NDA-partner party leadersthat at a time when the sheer size, scale and integrity of Indian elections were becoming a global brand, efforts were on to undermine the exercise. He was addressing NDA partners meet on May 21 Tuesday. He expressed concern over the Opposition making “needless controversy” over electronic voting machines, the Home Minister said. He also said that the “ controversy over EVMs was an effort to undermine the integrity of the Election Commission,” as The Hindu reported.

Countercurrents.org published a report about the ‘integrity’ of the election process in Varanasi, where Modi was the main candidate.  (see Varanasi : Democracy and justice denied amidst the din of costliest electoral democracy May 18, 2019).

Now the present report is about Chandragirinear Tirupati, AP Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu’s home turf. India’s premier Gods in Varanasi and Tirupati perhaps blesssed them both for all their omissions and commissions.

A Repoll was held on May 19 in parts of Chandragiriconstituency of Andhra Pradesh (AP). A Re-polling in India’s elections is not big news, nor unprecedented. But this was  a noteworthy case for several reasons. The mainstream media underplayed the serious issues involved. Hence this detailed report.

Polling to 175-member Assembly and all 25 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state were held in a single, First, phase on April 11. Re-polling was also held on May 6 in five polling booths spread over three districts, but not here. Thus this repoll on May 19 was special, a belated repoll, ordered a month later on May 15.

Indian elections a ‘global brand’ ? Victory to democracy?

Repolling in seven polling stations in Andhra Pradesh’s Chandragiri Assembly constituency, which forms part of the Chittoor (SC) Lok Sabha seat, ended peacefully on May 19 Sunday, registering 89.29% turnout,just 1.13% less than the 90.42% recorded on April 11. But it was 10 percent more than the 2014 assembly election turnout of 79.83%.

Rs. 10000 crore was  the  estimated total amount spent on this election in AP alone. It was part of Rs. 70 to 90 thousand crore in India as a whole. Caste religion and liquor fueled the polling most of the time. No wonder that percentage of polling went up to around 90 percent! But the repoll did not make much difference with that. In fact, the turnout was a little lower than in April. But that is no issue.

Right side :Victim Karuna, ostracised for voting as per her choice.

Chandragiri Assembly constituency is located in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh and comes under the Chittoor (SC) Lok Sabha constituency. It is among the 14 constituencies in Chittoor dt. The constituency which is close to Tirupati has seven mandals – Tirupati (Rural), Chandragiri, Pakala, Ramachandrapuram, Chinnagottigallu and Yerravaripalem mandals. Tirupati (Urban) Mandal (Part) Konkachennaiahgunta, Mangalam and Chennayyagunta Villages.

Of the 5,451 voters, 4,867 exercised their franchise in the repoll  amid unprecedented security arrangements including Sec 144.

Initially, the Election Commission (EC) had announced polling only in five villages — Pulivarthivaripalle, Venkatramapuram, Kothakandriga, Kammapalli and N.R. Kammapalli. Two more villages — Kalepalli and Kuppam Badur — were included at the last minute, forcing the district officials to expedite arrangements. The first five villages are considered the TDP’s pocket boroughs, while the last two are YSRCP’s strongholds.

Press Trust of India  (PTI) on May 15 reported the repoll decision.  It was  in polling stations 321, 104, 316, 318 and 313 of both Assembly and Lok Sabha segments, the CEO Dwivedi had said in a press release.

Business Standard, among a few other media outlets promptly reported this. It  said :  YSR Congress MLA and contesting candidate Ch Bhaskar Reddy lodged a complaint with the ECearly this month that voters belonging to a particular community were not allowed to exercise their franchise when polling was conducted on April 11.

The report did not however mention the community. Why ?

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TDP protests and resists the decision

The TDP and its leader Chandra Babu Naidu protested the decision , he went all the way to Delhi to do so,  and said the  (EC) was biased, worked under pressures of the ruling party at Centre.  The Telugu Desam Party said the EC should not be acting in a “biased manner.”TDP state president K Kala Venkata Rao met Additional Chief Electoral Officer Sujata Sharma and objected to the recommendation for a repoll based on YSRCs complaint.

“Why did it take more than 24 days for the YSRC to lodge a complaint if there was anything amiss? Our agents had also complained about irregularities in two polling stations on April 11 itself but the EC did not act on them,” Rao told reporters after meeting the Additional CEO.He said the TDP sought repolling in 49 polling stations in Chandragiri segment but the EC did not react.”If repoll has to be conducted, the EC should act on our complaints also,” he demanded. The TDP’s argument was that the District Collector had cleared the polling in Chandragiri on April 11, rejecting all the complaints. Why and how did the EC re-open it ? They blamed the Chief Secretary, acting at the behests of the BJP and the Centre, was doing all this.

The Chief Secretary was indeed newly  appointed by the EC amidst complaints that the AP administration was working as an agency of Naidu-led TDP, the ruling party in AP. TDP and Naidu’s objections were over-ruled.

The way rigging was organized by TDP can be seen below, but the TDP had the temerity to protest a repoll.

The new  Chief Secretary L.V.Subramanyam has condemned the allegations made against him in the issue of re-polling. He said that the CEConly after verifying the facts  has ordered re-polling in five centres. He said that contestants have obstructed  SCs in these  villages not to cast their vote which is of serious nature. Subramanyam said that it is the duty of the CEC and other officials to see that every citizen has to exercise their franchise. During this course, he only did his duties. Finding fault with him and the EC is not correct, he said.

CEO Dwivedi  and Chief Secretary Subramanyam were openly blamed by Naidu as working to favor the BJP and Modi-led Centre.

Naidu alleged that the EC once again showed its bias by ignoring the TDP demand for re-poll while accepting a similar demand by YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) more than a month after the polling. TDP sources said after submitting the memorandum, Naidu may stage a sit-in in the national capital to protest the EC’s decision.

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Tussle between the Centre and AP

EC transfers Andhra Chief Secretary after row over intelligence chiefis the title of a Report, of Saturday, April 06, 2019,  based on IANS inputs. It is as follows:

In a major development only days before the polling in AP, due on April 11 as part of phase-1, the ECon April 5 Friday shunted out AP Chief Secretary Anil Chandra Punetha for allegedly defying its order to transfer three top police officials.The poll panel has appointed L.V. Subrahmanyam, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer , as the new Chief Secretary.

The EC directed that Punetha, who is due to retire next month, should not be given any election-related posting.The move came four days after the EC summoned Punetha and reportedly pulled him up for defying its order to transfer three Indian Police Service (IPS) officers, including State Intelligence chief A.B. Venkateswara Rao.

On March 26, the EC had ordered transfer of Intelligence Director General Rao, and Superintendents of Police of Srikakulam and Kadapa  districts. The same night, the Chief Secretary issued an order transferring all the three officials.They were brazenly  favoring the TDP, it was alleged. The hand of Modi-led Centre was seen before this act.

However, the next day he, under pressure from AP Govt., issued an order cancelling the transfer ofIntelligence chief and notifying transfer of two other officers. Punetha, also issued another order the same day listing the police officers to be designated for election-related duties. The list included officers from police constable to the Director General of Police but exempted the DG, Intelligence, allegedly the hand-picked by Naidu.

The state government had also challenged the transfer of police officials but the AP High Court refused to intervene in the EC order and ruled that the Intelligence chief must be transferred. The court also pulled up the state government for issuing an order to reverse the EC’s decision.

https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/ec-transfers-andhra-chief-secretary-after-row-over-intelligence-chief-99547

The CEO asked the Chittoor district collector to inquire into the complaints and submit a report. Based on the Collector’s report, the CEO recommended that a repoll be conducted in the five polling stations. It should be noted that the Collector himself earlier rejected complaints and gave clean chit.

The EC, on May 15 Wednesday, declared the poll held on April 11 in these five stations as void under the Representation of People Act and ordered that a repolling be conducted from 7 am to 6 pm on May 19.

The decision followed after a complaint by outgoing MLA from Chandragiri and YSRCP candidate Dr. Chevireddy Bhaskar Reddy that voters of one particular community were not allowed to cast their votes on April 11. The Hindu had reported in January that voters from SC/ST communities in different villages in Chandragiri constituency, including NR Kammapalli, were being denied from exercising their franchise.More of it later.

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90% polling or rigging ?

But it was ignored. Rather, a show was organized by the administration to promote ‘democracy’ and enhance polling to 90 percent.District Collector P.S. Pradyumna said that all the complaints and allegations would be taken into account and viewed with seriousness. “The tahsildars in all mandals have been instructed to give top priority to complaints and rectify the discrepancies. All the claims would be solved by February 20. Any officials found to be showing partiality would be dealt with sternly,” the Collector said.The Collector said that in order to achieve 90% polling in the district, a special awareness campaign is under way christened ‘Vote Chittoor Vote’. ( February 16, 2019)

https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Vijayawada/vote-chittoor-vote-picks-up-steam/article26292383.ece

It was indeed 90 percent on April 11, but it proved to be a case of massive rigging. MLABhaskar Reddy alleged that TDP workers had prevented genuine voters from coming out to vote and resorting to rigging. He alleged that particularly Dalits were locked up in their houses to bar them from voting.He submitted video footage from the available webcasting to buttress his version of the story. Upon verifying video footage, the State Election Commission concluded that rigging had taken place and order for the repoll.

There was a time when EC had issued orders to doubly verify if everything went properly whenever 90 percent polling took place anywhere. Here it was a case of a campaign to achieve 90% polling. Reports indicated that in all these booths only a countable few votes were in favor of Congress and now YSR CP.     

YSR CP  secretary Mr Dadi Veerabhadra Rao  alleged that the TDP cadres had stopped SC and ST voters in Chandragiri and indulged in massive rigging on the polling day on April 11.The CC camera footage was analysed for a month and repoll was ordered in five booths. He said it was unfortunate that the TDP was making wild allegations that the EC was favouring the YSRCP. He said that the YSRCP had not complained to the EC when the TDP wooed women voters by transferring money into their accounts in the name of ‘pasupu kumkuma’, three days before the election. The party had decided not to complain to the EC as it would deprive women of that money (Rs. 4000 each).

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/repoll-tdp-trying-to-divert-peoples-attention-says-dadi/article27167069.ece

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TDP goes to High Court but the Court did not intervene

In fact there was tension,  on May 16 Thursday between the YSRCP and TDP candidates, after the decision for repoll was taken. It has been reported that the villagers tried to stop the YSRCP candidate Bhaskar Reddy’s son Mohit Reddy from entering the village, with some women allegedly attacking him with broomsticks. The villagers were reportedly angry with Bhaskar Reddy for demanding the repoll. Chandragiri CI denied that Reddy was physically attacked, but confirmed that tensions had surfaced in the village, and the police reached the location to prevent any violence. He added that both the candidates, YSRCP’s Bhaskar Reddy and TDP’s Pulivarthi Nani, were taken to the police station on Thursday night and detained temporarily as a preventive measure.

The YSRCP candidate pointed out that there was a pattern to the manner in which Dalit voters were denied their right to vote. The TDP resorted to similar tactics earlier and his complaints went unheeded, he said.Bhasker Reddy said that the APCEO and ECpaid heed to him only after he sent a legal notice saying that will file a petition in the Supreme Court on the subject. Earlier, he had complained to the EC on the day of the election itself, Bhasker Reddy pointed out, seeking a repoll in 7 booths.

Naidu tried to stall repolling during his quick visit to Delhi, but Delhi and the EC were not to be convinced by him. Apparently he was shown the video footage about allegations of rigging by TDP. It was then TDP tried to go to High Court as a last and last-minute resort. After all, it is alleged, there are sympathetic forces in the Court.

The bureaucrats, police, judges, media …all are divided between sections of ruling classes and ruling parties,  with their own preferences. All laws and rules are flexible, pliable, it is repeatedly found.

The arrest of YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) MLA from Chandragiri and senior leader Chevireddy Bhasker Reddy in late February sent ripples of shock through party cadre and the public here.What was the MLA’s fault? He protested against the arrest of YSRCP workers and villagers who caught people carrying out bogus surveys and indulging in electoral malpractices like deletion of voters’ names from the list, reported Sakshi.

The Chittoor police did not merely arrest the Chandragiri MLA. They made him sit in a police vehicle and took him around all over including parts of neighbouring places in the state of Tamil Nadu. This was revealed by the MLA himself and by other senior leaders of the party including Leader of opposition in Andhra Pradesh legislative Council, Ummareddy Venkateswarlu. They alleged that he was denied food and water by the police, even a BP tablet despite repeated pleas.

Mutual allegations were made by YSR CP and TDP about deletion of lakhs of voters from voters’ lists. They went to the EC and Courts. Lakhs of voters in Telangana too were earlier similarly removed from current lists.The voters had photo ID cards issued by EC but to no avail. And the EC issued an apology, and advised voters to check up their names in the latest lists. But that itself would be a long story how elections in India were manipulated.Those in power manipulate elections from the stage of voters’ lists. Even the CPM had repeatedly done that in Bengal, and it was called scientific rigging.

How the police was serving the ruling party can be seen in this report of April 25, 2019: 

In this particular incident, a family from Kota village in Chandragiri mandal were ostracised by the local TDP leaders because they had voted for the YSR CP. Not only did they boycott the family, they also tried to attack women who objected to their high handedness.As per the victim Karuna’s account, (see photo above) she and her husband Shashidhar had gone to participate in the Sri Ram Navami celebrations in the village. As part of the ritual, she had taken offerings for the God in a plate. When she kept her plate there, TDP leaders from the village Munichandra, Giri, Venkatrayalu,Rajendra and a few others pushed her plate aside. When she asked as to why they pushed her plate, they cited the reason that since her family had voted for YSRCP they were boycotting her family from the village.When Karuna and a few other women objected, the TDP leaders abused them in filthy and objectionable language and tried to attack them.The victims went to the Kota Police station along with the local YSRCP leaders and filed a complaint against them.This kind of social boycott by the local leaders was unacceptable and a crime.

https://english.sakshi.com/andhrapradesh-politics/2019/04/25/chandragiritdp-leaders-ostracise-family-which-voted-for-ysrcp

One can see why the Centre forced a change in officialdom, including the intelligence wing of police. YSR CP is now close to Modi-led Centre, it is alleged, replacing TDP that was an ally of Modi for four plus yeras since 2014. 

TDP leaders challenging the re-poll orders of the CEC has approached the High Court seeking a directions to stop the re-poll just a day ahead.  Chittoor Parliamentary constituency candidate N.Siva Prasad, Chandragiri Assembly constituency candidate P.Venkatamani have filed petitions separately in lunch motion. A Division Bench comprising of Justice Upmaka Durga Prasada Rao and Justice Jawavalakar Uma Devi, despite summer vacation, specially and urgently  heard the arguments and posted the matter to Saturday. However the court decided late on May 18 not to interfere. It is said the the Court was shown some video footage.

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SEO on ‘clear evidence of rigging’

State Election Officer Gopala Krishna Dwivedi in a chit chat with media persons said that initially, they received a report  that the elections were held in a democratic manner. But after receiving complaints and after verifying the video footages, he recommended for re-poll in the centres. He said there is clear evidence of rigging. If any one approaches court, the EC would submit the facts before the court, he said.Obviously the Court was given the facts.

According to the video clips now available with the Election Commission,it is said in leaked reports, the CC Cameras did not work in one booth, while the CC Cameras were turned against the walls, not recording the polling process in one booth. In the third booth, the Dalits were being sent away from the entry point of the booth by giving them just ink mark on their fingers. In the other two booths, according to these video clips, private persons were conducting the election process, while the election staff remained spectators.

He said that stringent action would be taken against Presiding Officer and Assistant Presiding Officer in the five centres that are going for a re-poll on May 19. FIRs would be registered on the presence of unauthorised persons in the polling centres. He ordered the District Collector and the SP to make heavy security at the centres and also install video cameras both inside and outside.

Indeed after the re-poll was over, more details came out on May 21- 22, 2019:

Chandragiri Repoll: ECI Suspends 10 Poll Officers for Dereliction of Duty

Amaravati: The Election Commission of India (ECI) has cracked the whip on ten polling officials in Andhra Pradesh for dereliction of duty on April 11 in Chandragiri constituency in Chittoor district. The ECI had taken this decision against the officials for their half-hearted and careless behaviour on the day of polling, for which re-polling had to be conducted in five places in Chandragiri.

It has decided to immediately suspend the Presiding Officers (PO), Assistant Presiding Officers (APO) Returning Officers and take departmental action against them. State Chief Electoral Officer (CEO)Gopal Krishna Dwivedi has given directions to the Chittoor District Collector PS Pradyumna to take action against the officers on Monday. He also directed that charges (FIR) should be framed against the private individuals who were present in the five polling centres on that day and submit the details to him.

Reasons for Repoll : Rigging confirmed

The EC had detailed the reasons as to why it was taking action against the polling officials who were on duty in the five polling stations in Chandragiri.

S R Kammalli (Booth No 321): Several private individuals were seen in the polling booth in a bid to assist voters. They were also seen close to the voting compartment, which was against Election rules.

-There were several of these people moving freely without proper identification cards.

-Some of them were seen casting the vote of citizens in a bid to help them vote.

-In another instance though the voters were not present, these private individuals cast their votes.

-Cell phones were used in the polling booths.

When the polling officials objected to this the polling agents and private individuals argued and threatened them also.

Kammalli (318): In this booth one person was seen casting votes of all the voters enumerated in the list. The arrival of a contesting candidate Dr Chevireddy Bhaskar Reddy at the booth led to a minor skirmish.

Pulivarthipalli (104) : In the afternoon at around 2.24 pm, two private individuals were seen casting the votes of other individuals in two voting compartments till the end of the day.

Kothakandriga( 316): In this booth individuals posing as polling agents were seen walking into the voting compartment and casting votes on their behalf. This continued until the end of the polling session. There were also instances of disputes between the polling agents and private individuals.

The details were given by few including Sakshi, leading Telugu daily, owned by Jagan Mohan Reddy  of YSR CP.

https://english.sakshi.com/andhrapradesh-politics/2019/05/21/chandragiri-repoll-eci-suspends-10-poll-officers-for-dereliction-of-duty

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Caste or Class or both ? What was the role of SC leaders?

It was said that Kamma landlords here were manipulating polls by obstructing opponents, more so those among SCs, STs etc. It is true. The same is said about Reddy landlords, also true, and even about BC bigwigs who also got elected from some segments of this LS seat.

Is it then SCs Vs others? What was the role of SC leaders? After all it has been a SC Reserved seat and SC leaders elected from here were Ministers several times. And they were in TDP and earlier Congress too. This business of rigging was going on for decades. None of them made an issue of it. In fact they were hand in glove with the ruling classes. Only when the rulers were bitterly divided, as is the case now, these issues came up, and it was not SC leaders who raised it! It was Reddy the YSR MLA who raised it now.

The contradictions in the ruling classes allowed all this to come out into the open. There are many such stories that would not see light. 

It was a curious case where EVMs, photo ID cards, so many poll officials and observers from Centre and state, indelible thumb marks, videography etc were all there even as rigging went on, yes often peacefully. The first round official report on April 11 was : everything was fine. Such is the integrity of the election system!

Voting was around 90 percent on April 11. It was almost the same on repoll day too. How come? Dalits may or may not come to poll booths, but wont vote themselves; someone of the ruling party does it for them. All records are ‘properly’  maintained. All allegations were brushed aside on April 11. That is how rigging goes on with official collusion.

YSRCP National General Secretary Vijaya Sai Reddy has appealed to the EC to deploy additional central forces during counting on May 23. He has also sought action against Chittoor Collector Pradyumna and Returning Officer of Raptadu constituency alleging that both these officials favoured the TDP.

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Rigging going on for decades

See the following Report by Special Correspondent, TIRUPATI, of The Hindu,dated January 23, 2019, with the heading Chandragiri villagers ‘kept away’from voting for three decades.

Voters air grievances to National SC,ST Commission member

  1. Ramulu, member of National SC,ST Commission, was taken aback when voters of seven polling booths in Ramachandrapuram mandal of Chandragiri Assembly constituency confessed to have never seen a polling station or cast their votes in over three decades.

Mr. Ramulu, who came all the way from New Delhi on Tuesday, interacted with the residents who explained about how the caste leaders of these villages had systematically kept them away from exercising their franchise. Around 500 residents from Ravillavaripalle, Kammakandriga, N.R. Kammapalle, T.T. Kandriga, Ganeshwaripuram (Kothakandriga polling station), Kammapalle and Parakalva, belonging to the marginalised communities, aired their grievances, saying that even their grandfathers had not cast their votes. “They (the caste leaders) would simply mark our fingers with the (indelible) ink and send us out,” the villagers alleged.

Mr. Ramulu expressed concern over the manner in which 5,000 people had been deprived of democratic rights. “I have never heard of such mass boycott of SC,ST communities from voting,” he told The Hindu.

Welfare schemes elude

Not even one SC member from these villages is a beneficiary of the schemes offered by SC Corporation, he said.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/chandragiri-villagers-kept-away-from-voting-for-three-decades/article26064681.ece

Notable point was the above is report was of january 2019. And ‘90 percent rigging’ took place in April.

In fact this was not a rare exception. Nor new. A couple of decades ago a top police officer of AP declared that they ensured that dalits of hundreds of villages in Rayalaseema of AP voted by themselves, for the first time since independence.

Now it is in a smaller area. But that is the tip of the iceberg of India’s elections.

Let us wait for the reports of results, how India’s largest , and costliest, democracy is going on and how Indian voters displayed great wisdom. And someone would claim they got a massive mandate. The massive mandate of 2014 was given by around 32 percent of those who voted, with about 66 percent polling.

Mera Bharat Mahan!


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