Bogus votes is not a novel phenomenon in Kerala. It can even be called a ritual followed as a tradition. And it always forms the subject of post-poll allegations. Although litigations follow as part of this, with court proceedings getting indefinitely dragged, in many cases parties back out and the very cases get dropped. But bogus vote has been there as an inevitable component of the democratic process. The districts of and Kannur and Kasargode are generally known for the phenomenon for quite some time. And usually topping the list of accused in this is CPM. What stood out this time is that with enhanced availability and application of technology , violations get caught red-handed.
The first video that came out this time was of a woman voter in booth no: 19 in AUP School, Pilathara in Kannur Lok Sabha constituency. The one caught in the camera was a CPM worker and Panchayat member. Another video that came in public domain was of booth no: 48 at Kooliyad Govt High School in Kasargode district. Both No 52 and 53 in Dharmadam constituency soon followed. While CPM is the accused in the first two cases, it is CPI who faces the charge in the third.
The attempt of CPM to defend the votes as 'open vote' fizzled out right in the beginning. For, as per the current rules, there is no provision for a vote called 'open vote'. Election Commission has made provision for differently abled and the aged to cast their votes through a system of companion vote. According to this, the person unable to vote by himself, can bring the companion who will then be allowed to vote in the presence of the registered voter. And the polling authorities have to be informed of such votes in advance. In the booth in Pilathara, when the same voter came back again for a second vote, in the video footage the voter is not found to be near the one who cast the vote. Therefore, the excuse of open vote did not come to resue in this instance. As per reports, the district collectors of Kannur and Kasargode submitted preliminary reports that ratify the allegation of bogus votes. The Chief Electoral Officer of the state Teeka Ram Meena has made it clear that the complaint is viewed seriously, and a report would be sent to the central election commission with proof.
The practice of bogus vote is something that would totally overtun the very democratic process, and will throw popular will to the winds. Those who have been working in the system tell that it has existed ever since elections came into existence. In districts of Kannur and Kannur, bogus voting is an allegation consistently raised by the Congress. It is not only that votes are cast of those who do not turn up, are sick or are not present in the place, but also that in many cases those who report for voting find to their surprise that their votes have already been cast. Despite several measures taken by Election Commission including making identity card compulsory, still bogus votes have not abated in northern Kerala. As regards identity card, they were getting forged and bogus votes were thus rendered smoother. In the booth at Pilathara AUP School, a voter named KJ Shalett had such a bitter experience. When she appeared for voting, somebody had already cast her vote. In such instances, the presiding officer is bound to allow them to vote by tendered ballot. But Shallett was not allowed to vote under that provision. And after a long wait she had to return without casting her vote.
There are widespread complaints that bogus votes are cast with the collusion of polling officials. Apparently there is substance in this charge. Polling officials, belonging to service organizations affiliated to different political parties, may either look the other way or take a sympathetic stand. Those who do not budge will be threatened. In Kannur and Kasargode districts during earlier times, booth agents were beaten away or blinded by spraying itchy power on their eyes. Since both LDF and UDF are strong in this region now, such practices are few now.
If bogus votes are resorted to in a planned and organized manner, a candidate with chances to win can easily be defeated. If say, in 1300 booths of a Lok Sabha constituency, half of them are identified and 20 bogus votes are cast in each of them, that can make 13,000 votes which may be enough to elect a candidate. There was a time when a practice existed in northern India in which gram mukhyas would go to the the polling booths, sit there and cast all votes. Booth grabbing was a rampant phenomenon at that time. Election Commission has by now introduced several reforms involving voting machine, identity card and web casting, in order to make polling free and fair. The country is spending crores of rupees to complete this democratic process. Therefore, no party can be allowed to make this huge exercie a mockery. Those who cast bogus votes, those who make them do it, and those who aid and abet it, should all be brought before law.