Soon after Election Commission officials, including K J Rao, unearthed glaring discrepancies in electoral rolls in poll-bound West Bengal, I visited the state's Nadia district.
Rao and his team had weeded out more than 94,000 bogus voters from Nadia's electoral rolls. According to PTI, on February 22, when the final voters' lists were published, West Bengal Chief Electoral Officer Debashis Sen announced that 12.98 lakh names had been deleted, which was four times the number in 2004.
Known to be one of the most strategic electoral districts of West Bengal comprising 17 blocks and four sub-divisions and bordering Bangladesh, Nadia is home to countless refugees from the other Bengal.
Marked by a palpable domination of the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist, very few people here were willing to speak their minds, despite my posing as a documentation consultant working with a voluntary organisation -- and not a journalist.
Those who did speak made sure not to reveal their identity.
According to insiders, the man who has been hailed as the real hero of the Bihar elections was quietly domineering in getting things done in Nadia.
"Rao came, saw and conquered," said a district official. "He was quick to grasp the situation and prompt to find out which particular part of the electoral system needed to be probed. Perhaps his experience in Bihar helped him understand the ills of the electoral system in West Bengal, particularly this border district," the official added.
Other sources confirmed Rao's modus operandi.
"Rao would not beat about the bush. It did not take him long to realise that all was not right in West Bengal as far as election procedures was concerned," said another district official.
At Chakdah in Nadia, Trinamul party officials said Rao found names of absconding criminals in the electoral lists of Nadia, North 24-Parganas and even Kolkata.
Rao also detected a large number of bogus voters during his visit to Dhubulia block of Nadia.
He met district officials and representatives of major political parties besides officials of the district administration in Krishnanagar.
Earlier, in a newspaper report, Chanchal Debnath, secretary of the Nadia district Trinamul Congress, alleged that names of 7,000 dead and 3,500 fake voters were included in the list of Haringhata constituency of the district.
During his meeting with Rao, Trinamul's Nadia district president Naresh Chaki alleged that 10 per cent voters in all booths were fake. He reportedly submitted 147 pages of documents containing 4,032 cases of 'ghost voters,' Bangladeshi nationals and dead people in the voters list in Nadia district.
In another report, Congress district secretary Ajay Dey claimed that while growth of population in Nadia district was 106 per cent, the voter list had grown by 130 per cent.
Dey had also requested Rao to transfer a section of policemen with alleged political leanings.
Alokesh Das, CPI-M member of Parliament from Nabadwip, told Rao that the party would welcome EC measures to rectify the voters' list as it had been complaining about the list for long.
He added that the party's rivals had incorporated fake names in the voters' list to put the blame on Left parties.
Sources said Rao and his team had the state's ruling Communist coalition rattled with the following revelations:
- There were countless bogus voters in the districts of Purulia, Bankura, Burdwan and Darjeeling.
- Block district officers of Jhargram and Haroa of North 24-Parganas went on leave when Rao visited their areas of jurisdiction. Some sources indicate this was to avoid grilling by electoral officers.
- In Chandrokona of the district of Midnapore, it was found that a few Bangladeshis applied for voter identity cards.
- He raised questions about the polling booths' proximity to party offices.
Close on the heels of Rao's visit, three 'factories' manufacturing bogus electoral ID cards and ration cards had been unearthed in Nadia district, say insiders.
Rao, who had been carrying on as an advisor and consultant in the Election Commission since his retirement four years ago, declined a fresh offer for an extension last month.
The big question is: With him gone, who can step into his shoes in West Bengal?