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Repoll in Chhapra on May 31

Onkar Singh in New Delhi | May 10, 2004 18:51 IST
Last Updated: May 10, 2004 23:36 IST

Acknowledging that the election held on April 26 was not free and fair, the Election Commission of India has decided to hold a repoll in Chhapra parliamentary constituency on May 31.

On polling day, large-scale violence had terrorised ordinary voters who could not exercise their franchise.

Bharatiya Janata Party candidate and Union Civil Aviation Minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who is pitted against former Bihar chief minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal president Laloo Prasad Yadav, had complained of large scale rigging and booth capturing. Along with his complaint, he had submitted video tapes of booth capturing.

The commission had sent a two-member team to Chhapra to investigate the allegations.

"After going through the report of the two-member fact finding team, the commission has decided to declare the polls held in Chhapra as null and void. Fresh elections would be held on May 31 with full security arrangements in order to ensure free and fair polls," Deputy Election Commissioner A N Jha told newspersons in Delhi on Monday.

The fact-finding team had found evidence of large-scale rigging and booth capturing. It also found that electoral registers had been manipulated, which indicated silent booth capturing.

Besides, the team was unhappy with the number of security personnel deployed by the state government in Chhapra.

In its four-page order, the Commission said that the poll had been 'vitiated because of booth capturing in a large number of polling stations in all the assembly segments of the constituency and that it is likely to affect the result of the election' there.

Quoting the report of the two-member EC fact-finding team comprising K J Rao and Anand Kumar that visited the constituency on May 2-3, the Commission said, "It reveals a very shocking state of affairs where even the polling personnel connived with one party or the other to rig the poll in their favour.

"They were apparently so overawed that they did not take courage to report true facts in their reports and diaries and became a party to the silent rigging with their connivance," the order said.

It further said the manner in which Voters' Registers were manipulated by them (polling personnel), so as to cover their misconduct at the polling stations, examples of which were galore in the report of the inquiry team, 'is a clear manifestation of their complicity and connivance in booth capturing and vitiation of poll conducted by them'.

"The Commission strongly condemns and deprecates the malpractices and rigging indulged in by the candidates and their supporters undermining the democratic process of election," it said.

Jha said that the counting of votes in Chhapra is expected to take place two days after the polling and that strict security arrangements would be made for ensuring a free and fair poll.Speaking to Aaj Tak, Rudy described the EC decision as 'a victory for democracy'.

Praising the media for its coverage of the Chhapra polling, Rudy said he wanted to thank everyone who helped him present his case before the EC.

In Patna, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav described the decision as 'unfortunate'. He said the EC was 'misled and was setting a new tradition by countermanding and ordering a repoll'.

Asked if the EC decision may trigger violence in the constituency he said, "Bilkul ho sakta hai" (yes, it is possible) but appealed to his supporters to maintain restraint. "Whenever elections take place, I will win."

He accused the BJP of trying to foment violence in Bihar and intimidating police and other officials deployed in the constituency during the election on April 26.

"If the EC has no faith in our police, I also cannot trust the central para-military forces. I challenge the Commission to hold election with the army providing security and the entire commission present," he said.

RJD election in-charge Bhola Prasad Singh said the party has decided to move the Supreme Court 'challenging the Election Commission's decision to countermand the Chhapra election'.

BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley said: "It's a welcome development. We are happy the EC has upheld democratic norms."

With inputs from Anand Mohan Sahay in Patna and PTI

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