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HindustanTimes Fri,22 Aug 2014
Mr Election Commissioner, Mumbai wants answers
Smruti Koppikar, Hindustan Times
Mumbai, May 01, 2014
First Published: 08:01 IST(1/5/2014)
Last Updated: 08:17 IST(1/5/2014)
People queue to cast their vote at a polling station for Lok Sabha polls at Ghatkopar in Mumbai. (HT photo/Vijayanand Gupta)

Mumbai did better this general election than in 2009. One in two voters turned up to vote. The voting percentage of 52.6% was impressive when compared to the 41.3% last election but the effort was marred by mass deletions of names including those of well-known banker Deepak Parekh and lawyer Ram Jethmalani.

It’s a week since an estimated 1.5 to 2 lakh names from Mumbai’s electoral rolls were found missing – or deleted. It has been more than a fortnight since mass deletions of eligible voters from electoral rolls came to light in Pune, Nagpur and Amravati.

It has been six days since the country’s election commissioner HS Brahma termed these deletions as “unfortunate, shocking and embarrassing”. Brahma offered an apology to the affected voters and assured that the Election Commission (EC) would find out where and how things went so wrong this time.

The apology is a courtesy that the election commissioner showed to enraged voters. It’s welcome, but it simply isn't enough. The EC owes us all clear answers, honesty and transparency.

What we have heard from the state electoral office so far has taken the familiar official route: first a denial of the problem, then an arrogant deflection of responsibility followed by a refusal to be transparent. ?Surely, Nitin Gadre, chief electoral officer, and his team in the state ought to do better than this.

A total of more than 70 lakh names were found wrongly deleted in the state’s electoral rolls, according to sources in the commission.

If the deletions were to be evenly divided among the 48 constituencies in the state, it would amount to an average of 1.5 lakh missing names per constituency. It's a number big enough to alter the election result in some closely contested constituencies where only a few thousand votes can separate the winner from the second-placed candidate.

But, we now know that the missing names – or name deletions, as they are called – were concentrated more in the urban areas and the mass scale largely confined to mega cities. This makes the issue even more significant because in some constituencies, the number of names deleted from the rolls could be more than 2 lakh.

The impact on the voter turnout percentage in that constituency could be marginal but the deletions could impact the election result more. Besides, voters have a right to know why their names were deleted from the rolls.

Let’s take the excuses that Gadre and his team have offered so far.

He has suggested that there may have been issues at the back-end with the private company that was entrusted with the job. What a classic deflection tactic this is.

Are we to believe that the state election commission simply gave the contract to a private company and then did nothing by way of monitoring it and cross-checking with its own database? If the company made gross errors, the buck stops with the state EC.

Even if we were to accept, for the sake of an argument, that the name deletions were a blunder on the part of the company, we would like to know which company this is and how such a major blunder was allowed to happen.

Why is the state electoral office shying away from making the company’s coordinates and details of the contract public? This company is answerable to the state election commission and that answer must be shared with the electorate.

Gadre sought to again deflect his responsibility when he said that the rolls were in the public domain for six months and voters should have been pro-active in checking that their names.

Indeed, voters could have checked but why would someone who has voted several times in the past check? Newly registered or first-time voters would have had a reason to go online and cross-check.

HDFC’s Deepak Parekh and his wife found their names missing. Parekh showed his identity proofs but wasn't allowed to vote. The banker could not believe that his name could have just disappeared after all these years of voting in the same constituency.

Why would Ram Jethmalani check if he has voted in every election in the past at the same constituency? He flew from Delhi to Mumbai but couldn't cast his vote.

Aam Aadmi Party's Reuben Mascarenhas, a passionate activist, urged some 50,000 voters to register  themselves - ironically, his name was missing from the rolls.

He did not think he had to verify his own name because he had voted in the past.

Lakhs of others, who have no reason to suspect that their names would be simply struck off the rolls, did not check. We do not regularly check if our names exist on other registers such as the Income Tax or Provident Fund, do we?

?The key question: is this unprecedented massive deletion purely random in nature and the result of some computer algorithm, or is there an under-lying pattern and a sinister design to it?

The former is bad enough, but if it’s the latter, it’s more serious than how the issue has been framed so far. To know what kind of a lapse it is, Gadre would have to come clean on the issue.

Aam Aadmi Party’s Medha Patkar has said that voter names of entire slums had been deleted in her constituency, Mumbai North East. She has demanded a re-poll.

Even to press for such a demand, we would have to figure out how many deletions there were in each constituency.

In the electoral roll revision, names are routinely deleted and added but there have not been such large-scale deletions that we saw this time.

In October 2013, when the state election commission released the new voters' list, 35 lakh names had been deleted and 20 lakh added. Later, another 13 lakh voters were deleted from the list, according to the commission records.

Gadre has not apologised, so far, for this massive blunder. Whether he offers one or not now is irrelevant. He owes us some honest answers. And, soon.


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