CEC says 'fake' narratives spread to sway elections, dares opposition to give proof to back claims

"You cannot spread a rumour and bring everyone under a cloud of suspicion," Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar said, citing opposition claims on faulty electoral rolls, the efficacy of EVMs, voter turnout and the counting process.
Chief Election Commissioner of India Rajiv Kumar addresses a press conference, in New Delhi, Monday, June 3, 2024.
Chief Election Commissioner of India Rajiv Kumar addresses a press conference, in New Delhi, Monday, June 3, 2024.

New Delhi | Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar on Monday said "fake" and "mischievous" narratives were spread to sway the general elections and sought proof from the opposition to back its claim that district magistrates were influenced to vitiate the poll process.

"You cannot spread a rumour and bring everyone under a cloud of suspicion," Kumar said, citing opposition claims on faulty electoral rolls, the efficacy of EVMs, voter turnout and the counting process.

Flanked by election commissioners Gyanesh Kumar and S S Sandhu, the CEC was speaking at a press conference on the eve of the counting of votes.

"There is a pattern, there is a design, I’m not saying it’s a toolkit. But there is a design," the CEC said, adding that cases pending for years were raked up just four days before the first phase of polling.

The Commission had made preparations to deal with any foreign attempt to influence the poll process but these allegations have come from within the country itself, he said in an apparent dig at the opposition.

"We failed to understand the fake narratives that were going on during the elections, but we have understood now," Kumar said.

With the EC facing criticism for holding elections in peak summer, the CEC said one of three big learnings from the polls was that this process should have been completed a month earlier.

"They shouldn’t have been held in such hot weather. It is a big election that involves a lot of forces. There is a lot of movement. We cannot reduce the time taken for the process but it could have been done earlier instead of in such heat," Kumar said.

"We failed to understand the fake narratives that were going on during the elections. But we have understood it now… We have to prepare next time to fight the fake narratives," the CEC said.

Taking exception to allegations that district magistrates were being influenced, the CEC said, "Those levelling allegations should say which DM was influenced and we will punish them. They should tell us before the counting process begins."

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh had claimed that Home Minister Amit Shah had been calling district magistrates and collectors and indulging in "blatant and brazen" intimidation.

District magistrates and collectors are the returning officers of their respective districts during elections.

Ramesh claimed that Shah had already spoken with 150 district magistrates or collectors.

The poll panel had asked the Congress leader to submit factual details by Sunday evening of the allegations that he made in a social media post recently but he wrote to the EC on Monday seeking one week's time to submit his reply.

The Election Commission, however, refused to grant additional time to the Congress leader and said he should file his response "by 7 PM today -- June 3, failing which it would be presumed that you have nothing substantive to say in the matter and the Commission would proceed ahead to take appropriate action".

Kumar said the EC has accepted all the demands made by the multi-party delegation that met the panel on Sunday and asserted that the issues raised by them were part of the election process going on for seven decades.

"Some demands were made by a multi-party delegation. We have agreed to all the demands," Kumar said, indicating that most of the issues raised by the multi-party delegation were part of election manuals.

"This process has been going on for 70 years... We have instructed every RO/ARO. These are our orders and they are no joke. Everyone has been instructed to follow the handbook/manuals," Kumar said.

On the opposition claims on postal ballots, the CEC said the postal ballot counting will be taken up first and the counting of votes registered in EVMs will begin 30 minutes later.

"The same process was followed in the 2019 and 2022 assembly elections. As soon as EVM counting gets over, five random VVPAT counting begins," Kumar said.

Count of postal ballots will commence first

New Delhi | Citing the Conduct of Election Rules, Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar on Monday said the count of postal ballots will start first across all counting centres and asserted that there was "no doubt about it".

Responding to questions at a press conference here, he said after half-an-hour of the start of the postal ballot count, the counting of votes recorded in the electronic voting machines will commence.

A delegation of the opposition parties had on Sunday met the Commission to demand that postal ballot count should start first and the results of postal ballots should be announced first.

"Rules clearly state (Rule 54A) that postal ballot count will start first. On all centres in the country it will start first, no doubt about it. After half-an-hour we start the EVM count. So, there are three countings which are happening simultaneously -- it happened in the 2019 elections, it happened in all the assembly polls held thereafter. It happened yesterday also in case of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim assembly (vote count). We can't change anything mid course. Why can't we change, because it is compliant with the rules," he said.

He said the postal ballot count and then the EVM count and finally the marching of VVPT slips with EVM results will continue.

In majority of the booths, the number of postal ballot is less. It will automatically end first, he pointed out.

Since 2019, VVPAT (paper-trail machine) slips from five randomly selected polling stations per assembly constituency (or segment in cases of Lok Sabha seats) are matched with the EVM count for greater transparency.

Decided to keep central forces in some states to prevent post-poll violence: CEC

New Delhi | In a bid to prevent post-poll violence, the Election Commission (EC) has for the first time decided to continue with the deployment of central forces in some states even after the expiry of the Model Code of Conduct period, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar said on Monday.

He said while the EC believes that there would be no post-poll violence, to prevent any flare-up, the election body has, for the first time, decided to deploy central forces even after the provisions of the model code are lifted following Tuesday's counting of the votes cast in the Lok Sabha polls.

The states where the central forces would continue to be deployed include Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Manipur, Kumar said. "Wherever we think there is a possibility (of violence)," he told a press conference here.

Sources had said on Saturday that the EC has provided central forces to various states beyond the June 4 counting day to prevent any untoward incident, based on the assessment provided by the states as well as central observers.

Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal have been provided with security forces for 15 days after the counting day.

Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh have been provided with security forces for two days after the counting day, the sources had said.

Along with the Lok Sabha election, Assembly polls were also held in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

The counting of the votes polled in the Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh Assembly elections took place on June 2.

EC has agreed to count postal ballots first: Congress leader Singhvi

New Delhi | The opposition on Monday said the Election Commission (EC) has agreed to its request of counting the postal ballots first on June 4, when the results of the Lok Sabha polls are scheduled to be declared, and stressed that this is the participatory manner of promoting the spirit of democracy in a non-adversarial fashion.

Leaders from the INDIA opposition bloc had urged the EC on Sunday to ensure that on June 4, the postal ballots are counted and their results declared before the outcome of the EVMs is announced, and said the poll panel should issue clear guidelines on the counting process and ensure that those are implemented.

A delegation of leaders from the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), including the Congress's Abhishek Singhvi, met the full bench of the EC on Sunday, ahead of Tuesday's counting of the votes polled in the Lok Sabha election.

Briefing the media after the meeting, Singhvi had said this was the third time that a delegation of opposition leaders visited the poll panel during the general election and, among other things, urged the officials to ensure that the postal ballots are counted and their results declared before the results of the electronic voting machines (EVMs) are announced.

In a statement on Monday, Singhvi said, "As informed, I am happy and proud to have spoken on behalf of the multi-party delegation which went yesterday to the Election Commission of India. We are also grateful to the ECI for giving us time promptly on a Sunday and for hearing us patiently."

"What one is happiest about the most is that a very glaring issue of democracy, namely counting postal ballots first, has been graciously and promptly agreed to by the ECI, one or two days before the counting of votes and shall be implemented tomorrow," the senior Congress leader said.

This is the participatory manner of promoting the spirit of democracy in a non-adversarial fashion, which works best in the long term, he asserted.

In a letter to the EC, the INDIA bloc leaders had said the number of postal ballots has gone up significantly in this Lok Sabha election as senior citizens (aged 85 years and above) and differently-abled persons were allowed to cast their votes through this process.

They quoted various rules and guidelines of the EC, including provisions of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 and Handbook for Returning Officer and Counting Agents (August 2023), that said the counting of postal ballots shall be done first.

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