Ensure postal ballots counted first, guidelines followed: INDIA bloc to EC

INDIA bloc urged EC to ensure that the postal ballots are counted first and their results declared before the results of the electronic voting machines are announced.
INDIA parties leaders comes out after a meeting with the Election Commission of India, in New Delhi, Sunday, June 2, 2024.
INDIA parties leaders comes out after a meeting with the Election Commission of India, in New Delhi, Sunday, June 2, 2024.

New Delhi | Leaders from the INDIA opposition bloc urged the Election Commission (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 stressed that 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) 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, Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi 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.

"This is the third multi-party delegation visiting the EC during this process.... We spent time with the EC on two-three major issues. Most important was counting the postal ballots and declaring the results first. This is a very clearly stated statutory rule, which specifically says that you should take up the postal ballots first," Singhvi said.

"Our complaint is that this guideline has been given a go-by. They have repealed the practice," he added.

In a letter to the EC, the leaders 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.

Another letter, signed by 13 opposition leaders, including Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, Nationalist Congress Party (SP) president Sharad Pawar and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, said even as political parties have put in a lot of effort to train their counting agents, the counting officials often fail to fully understand all aspects of the counting process.

Elaborating on the opposition's demands, Yechury said the leaders have requested the EC to ensure that its own guidelines are implemented. The guidelines include ensuring that the control units of the EVMs are moved through CCTV-monitored corridors and a verification of the date-and-time display of the control units is done.

"This verification is important because unless it is done, there is no authenticity that it is the same control unit that came from the polling booth, that it has not been changed," he said.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader also said the start and end time and the date of the polling process should be checked on the control unit.

"The slips and tags that are put when an EVM is sealed should be shown to all the counting agents for verification. After pressing the button for the results, reconfirming the date of polling is not done ... that has to be ensured," he said.

In their letter, the opposition leaders said the feedback from their counting agents for earlier polls indicates that these slips and tags are not shown to them and when they request to see those, the counting staff demands a written rule or circular stating that these details must be shown to them.

The second letter also laid stress on counting the postal ballots first. Besides Kharge, Pawar and Yechury, the signatories to this letter included Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convenor Arvind Kejriwal, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, DMK's TR Baalu, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav and National Conference (NC) president Farooq Abdullah.

On Saturday, senior leaders of the INDIA bloc met here to discuss their strategy for the counting day, even as the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and People's Democratic Party (PDP) skipped the meeting.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, who presided over the deliberations, said they would meet EC officials on Sunday "to discuss certain issues".

The opposition parties have asked their agents to monitor the vote-counting process closely on Tuesday and ensure that form 17C, which contains the number of votes recorded at each polling station, is shared with them.

Polling for the seven-phase parliamentary election was concluded on Saturday.

Be alert on counting day, Kharge and Rahul tell Cong's LS poll candidates

New Delhi | Stay alert and put in place measures to check any attempts of rigging on vote counting day, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and senior leader Rahul Gandhi told the party's Lok Sabha poll candidates on Sunday, according to sources.

Kharge and Gandhi interacted with Congress candidates during a virtual meeting which was also attended by party general secretaries Jairam Ramesh and K C Venugopal, legislative party leaders and state unit chiefs to review preparations for June 4 -- the day when votes of the seven-phase Lok Sabha polls will be counted.

The sources said a standard operating procedure has been shared with the candidates for counting day.

Gandhi and Kharge asked Congress workers and leaders to not leave counting centres till all formalities are completed. They also called on Congress leaders to keep the morale high and stressed that the exit polls were aimed at demoralising the party cadre.

Exit polls on Saturday predicted that Prime Minister Modi will retain power for a third straight term, with the BJP-led NDA expected to win a big majority in the Lok Sabha polls.

Terming the exit polls "bogus", the Congress on Sunday said they were a "deliberate attempt to justify rigging" of the elections and part of "psychological games" being played by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lower the morale of the INDIA bloc workers. Former Congress president Gandhi dubbed the exit polls as "Modi media poll".

Ramesh said that the exit polls were "orchestrated and masterminded by the man whose exit is inevitable and guaranteed on June 4".

"These are all part of the psychological games being played by the outgoing prime minister (Modi) and the outgoing home minister (Amit Shah). The outgoing home minister called up 150 district magistrates and collectors yesterday. The results that the exit polls have come up with, bear no relation to reality," the Congress leader said.

Leaders of several INDIA bloc parties had also met here on Saturday and took stock of the opposition's preparations leading up to the June 4 counting of votes polled in the Lok Sabha elections, and asserted they will get more than 295 seats, enough for them to form the next government.

The leaders of the alliance dwelt on a host of issues, including the precautions to be taken on the counting day on Tuesday, Kharge had told reporters after two-and-a-half-hour confabulations at his residence.

He had said they have instructed their party workers to not leave the counting halls till all formalities are completed.

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