Many were surprised when the Bharatiya Janata Party announced the ‘Page Pramukh’ system ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. Hushing down every doubtful voice, BJP’s micro management tactic reaped huge benefits as the system helped karyakartas in the precise analysis of voting patterns and in trend speculation.
The Congress in Kerala seems to have taken a leaf out of the BJP playbook for the upcoming Assembly elections. The Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) is officially on a mission to ‘cleanse’ the voters list, which it terms as ‘faulty’.
The Party has launched a mission named ‘Operation Twins’ to find bogus votes in the list and has come up with solid evidences to substantiate their claims on bogus votes. A website named ‘Operation Twins’, launched as part of this mission, contains details regarding the mistakes in the voters list. Errors like multiple entries of voters and voter IDs that were created with the same photographs in various booths or nearby constituencies are listed on the site. The website also gives the constituency number, booth number, candidate names and basic details regarding the electoral roll.
Operation Twins allows anyone to access the entire list of multiple entries in each of the 140 constituencies in the state with a click of a button.
Why was this mission launched?
The Congress considers the upcoming Assembly elections as a do or die battle. Of the five state states that go to polls this year, it is in Kerala that the party has highest hopes. Reclaiming power in the state is essential for the survival of the party and a negative outcome might seriously affect the GOP’s claim to lead the opposition alliance at the national level.
Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala, earlier in March, had accused the Communist Party of India (M) lead Left Democratic Front (LDF) of trying to rig the elections using a faulty electoral roll. Chennithala’s claim came days after many opinion polls predicted a second term for the LDF Government.
The Congress led United Democratic Front (UDF) was struggling to generate a positive perception about their victory chances among the public. This is very crucial as the swing/neutral voters often decide the fate of elections in Kerala.
A rough analysis of the 2016 elections showed that about 30 seats were won by candidates at a very thin margin. After analyzing the past results, the Opposition came up with a theory that “a faultless voters list will ensure UDF’s victory”. They also made statements which implied that it was the LDF which rigged the voters list for their personal gains, although no evidence was provided on that matter.
The UDF launched an action plan that comprised of localized surveillance and a combination of strategy and analysis and eventually came up with scandalous revelations which has shaken up the Election Commission.
A list of 4.3 lakh alleged bogus voters and multiple entries, found after the surveillance mission has been included in the Operation Twins website.
High Court intervenes, directs ECI to look into the matter
Chennithala approached the Kerala High Court to intervene in the matter and pleaded to delete or freeze the multiple entries of names in the electoral roll.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly disposed off this petition, but directed the Election Commission to permit ‘Absent-Shifted-Dead’ (ASD) voters to leave the polling booths only after the indelible ink is dried. All photographs of the ASD voters taken in the booths should be collected, digitized and kept by the Commission, the Court directed.
The Election Commission responded to the Court that all arrangements have been made for web-casting in 20,441 polling booths, to prevent any possibility of impersonation. ECI stated that instructions have been issued in respect of the ASD list and voters included in the suspected multiple entry list will have to submit a declaration under Section 31 of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951. These voters would have to sign and affix their signature and thumb impression at the time of voting.
The poll body informed the High Court that its intensive analysis had led to the identification of only 38,586 Demographically Similar Entries (DSE) from the 4.30 lakh suspected entries in electoral rolls. The EC had said it found the 38,586 DSEs after analyzing the data provided by political parties.
Chennithala later expressed surprise over the Election Commission’s finding regarding the exact number of DSEs in the electoral rolls in Kerala.
LDF denies allegation, launches attack against Congress
The LDF has categorically denied all allegations regarding their involvement in the inclusion of bogus voters in the list. CPI (M) stated that multiple entries are simply technical errors and denied allegations of using unfair tactics to shift the elections in their favour.
Senior CPI (M) leader M A Baby accused Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala of leaking electoral data by publishing it on a website hosted from a Singapore-based server. He stated that this was an infringement upon the privacy rights of more than four lakh voters. Transferring data, which include information on names, addresses and voter IDs of Indian citizens, outside the country, is a serious issue, Baby said while speaking at press conference in Thiruvananthapuram.
The LDF Government had earlier been accused for leaking hospital and patient’s data to an MNC named Sprinklr during the first wave of COVID-19 in the state.
The after-effects of Operation Twins
The UDF was able to generate a public welfare crusader image by raising this issue in the state. Congress has asked party workers and allies to be extra cautious on polling day and has asked them to raise objections when voters included in the ASD list turn up at the polling booth.
Operation Twins had its share of surprises when many Congress leaders’ kith and kin found their names in multiple booths and constituencies. Ramesh Chennithala’s mother had her name featured in two different polling booths in Alappuzha, but the leader termed this as a fault from the Booth Level Officer’s (BLO) who is entrusted with the addition and deletion of names to the electoral roll. A pair of twins from Palakkad accused the UDF of wrongly publishing their respective photographs in the list as a set of bogus voters.
The political debate surrounding Operation Twins will continue until election results are announced in May. Will the Congress reap benefits out of Operation Twins? Only the voter knows!
The News Minute