The question is who will take the responsibility for the poor voter turnout in Maharashtra? The distressed common man, who went from one polling booth to another and to the District Collector’s (DC) office to find out why their names were deleted from the voter lists; The Bollywood celebrities, for whom attending IIFA awards in Tampa Bay-Florida was a bigger priority than exercising their democratic right; Or, the state Election Commission, that has one hand remained defensive by saying the due process was followed and the commission has the record of each and every deleted voter, has also tendered an apology saying the error will be corrected before the Maharashtra assembly election due later this year.
It”s has always been said that the urban voters do not want to be involved in voting because they do not get affected by the issues related to development. But Mumbai voters, who voted on April 24, had a different story to tell. This election the urban class wanted to vote but to dismay their names were missing from the electoral list.
Hundreds of thousands of names were found missing from the voters” lists on Thursday, when the 19 constituencies in the state voted in the sixth phase of the national election. Six million voters were deleted or diverted across Maharashtra and over 1, 80,000 names were allegedly missing from the electoral rolls all across Mumbai. Among those who said they could note vote because their names were missing were HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh, lawyer Ram Jethmalani and Marathi actor Atul Kulkarni.
The irony was that the voters, whose names were deleted from the lists, were roaming from one station to another to access their electoral right. But Bollywood celebrities, who could have easily voted as their names were in the voters list chose IIFA over India’s fate.
Javed Akhtar, who is a nominated member of Rajya Sabha, for 2016, his wife, Shabana Azmi, Anupam Kher, who was the prominent face during the election campaign, and Anil Kapoor said,”They wanted to vote but could not because of their earlier commitment to IIFA Awards.”
Apart from them, Sonakshi Sinha, daughter of a known political leader; Govinda, a former politician; Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, an acclaimed film maker; Salman Khan and Madhuri Dikshit Nene, who were criticised for performing in Safai Mahotsav in Uttar Pradesh, escaped an essential duty as the citizens of India.
Other celebs who did not vote include: Kareena Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan, Saif Ali Khan, Vivek Oberoi, Bipasha Basu, Shahid Kapoor, Anjum Rajabali, Imtiaz Ali, Priyanka Chopra, Abhay Deol, Vir Das, Malaika Arora Khan, and Deepika Padukone.
Farhan Akhtar, Vidya Balan, Prasoon Joshi, Ranveer Singh were the only celebs, who went to attend the awards after casting their votes.
Democratic Right Deleted
According to a media report, the voters who were not able to vote included mostly middle- and higher-income groups.
The grievance cell at Jain Institute of Technology opposite Central Plaza cinema, in South Mumbai faced a constant stream of irate voters whose names had either been deleted from the rolls or were missing entirely.
The task of making the voters list was reportedly entrusted to a private company but now, the state officials are not ready to divulge the name of the company responsible for the alleged goof up. According to the state election commission, the large number of deletions, approximately 3 lakh for Mumbai city, was part of EC”s special drive to update photo electoral rolls and carry out the long pending clean up the voters list of Maharashtra. The clean up was undertaken to remove names of voters who have either been absent for too long, dead or have moved out of the state.
State Chief Electoral Officer, Nitin Gadre said, “The deletions were done six months ago as per the legal process.” The revised lists were given to all political parties with suitable publicity at local levels by district collectors and the new lists had been made available on the state election commission website for the past six months. According to the state EC, the deletion was done mainly because the voters were not found residing in the area in which they were originally registered.
A number of campaigns have been started by activists and concerned citizens from the state to register their protest on the social media. A page called, “I am a deleted voter” is being followed by thousands of Mumbaikars whose names went off the electoral roll. Infact taking cognizance of the peoples anger, a legal team of Jayakar and Partner with advocate Pankaj Sutar and advocate Chetan Nagare has also decided to approach the High Court with a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to reach out to such voters, who have utilized the social media by launching a facebook page named “I am a deleted voter”. About 250 voters have downloaded the affidavit and have sent it to the legal team for the PIL. And about 5000 voters have contacted them over the phone, while the others are contacting via Facebook, said the legal team.
Disappointed at having missed the chance to vote in Lok Sabha elections, many people have came forward to file PIL and have written petitions against the District Collector.
Social activist, Pratap Gaikwad, who runs a school for the deprived children in Dahanu village, Virar has filed a PIL on the matter and sat on a dharna to protest. He said, the DC from the area, Saurabh Rao has only received complaints from 1235 voters compared to the 70,000 voters whose names were missing from the electoral list.
Meanwhile, BJP candidate Anil Shirole has reacted to Election Commission”s remarks and has demanded action against those responsible for deletion of names. Shirole reiterated that all the voters who exercised their franchise during the 2012 PMC elections should be allowed to vote for 2014 Lok Sabha elections before the results are declared.
Besides all campaigns and dharnas for not being able to vote, there are few people who are following the National Congress Party (NCP) Supremo’, Sharad Pawar’s guidelines to vote twice by having two voter-id-cards. Chhagan Bhujbal”s wife and both his daughters-in-laws are listed in the voters” list in Mumbai as well as in Nasik. Allegedly, it seems to be a planned operation to rig the ongoing Lok Sabha elections by the NCP as, Bhujbal is one of the prominent leader of the party. On one side, the names of voters were deleted and on the other hand the wives of a Cabinet Minister, an MLA and a Member of Parliament are enrolled at two places. The names of Bhujbal’s wife Meena Bhujbal, and daughters-in-laws Visakha Bhujbal and Shefali Bhujbal were listed in Nasik as well as in Byculla constituencies.
Chhagan Bhujbal, who is the PWD minister, is contesting the Lok Sabha election from Nasik constituency, which was hitherto represented by his nephew Samir. His son Pankaj is a member of the state legislative assembly elected from Nandgaon.
The voters’ woes are not limited to Maharashtra and Mumbai as the same happened in Ranchi where 60,000 voters could not vote as their names were deleted from the voters list. And fake voter ID cards were seized from Bangladeshi’s in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan too.
Social activists and voters believe the large number of missing voters from the electoral roll is a huge conspiracy. Senior journalist and RTI activist Vinita Deshmukh, said. “This is a huge conspiracy. It is not enough for the Election Commission to say sorry. Why is the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party defending the Election Commission? Actually, it is tough both to enter and get out of the voters” list. It seems the attempt is to delete the names of thinking voters .”
– Monica Sangwan