Your words can have negative impact on voter turnout: EC to Kharge on allegations on polling data

New Delhi, May 10 (PTI) The Election Commission on Friday reprimanded Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge over his allegations on voter turnout data, calling it an “aggression” on the vitals of live conduct of elections and a deliberate attempt to spread confusion, and said it can have a negative impact on voter turnout.

The commission also said allegations in Kharge’s letter to leaders of opposition parties on the ‘delay’ by the EC in sharing voter turnout data was an attempt to “push a biased narrative” under the guise of seeking clarifications.

In a five-page response with a series of annexures, the poll panel rejected charges of mismanagement and delay in the release of voter turnout data in the first two phases of the Lok Sabha elections. It termed Kharge’s allegations “unwarranted”, “without facts” and “reflective of a biased and deliberate attempt to spread confusion”.

“Utterances from the president of a national political party attacking the very credibility of the electoral steps and processes can have a negative impact on voter participation and can be seen as a means to deter an elector from exercising their franchise and/or demoralizing the huge number of election staff and machinery which is mainly drawn from the respective state governments,” the EC told Kharge.

The poll panel said while Kharge was free to express concerns with leaders of other parties, making the letter public raised question marks on the intention. It advised the Congress veteran to “exercise caution” and “refrain” from making such statements.

The Congress described as “regrettable” the EC’s “approach” in addressing the issues raised by Kharge in his letter to the leaders of the opposition parties.

In a statement on ‘X’, AICC general secretary Jairam Ramesh said the Congress president had raised “perfectly legitimate” issues on which there have been widespread concern and comments.

“The approach of the Election Commission to addressing these issues is deeply regrettable,” said Ramesh, the in-charge of the communications department of the Congress.

Senior party leader P Chidambaram also said the EC is not beyond criticism. “When RBI, C and AG, Finance Commission and other bodies can be criticised, why does ECI think it should not be criticised?” he said.

The former finance minister called for a discussion in Parliament on the omissions and commissions of the Election Commission and said all political parties will share their experiences of contesting the elections under the current poll authority.

“Even T N Seshan was criticised. Why should the present three-member take offence?” Chidambaram asked. He said Kharge had raised valid points in his letter and the commission could have refuted the same.

“…but why take exception to the letter?” Chidambaram wondered.

A delegation of opposition party leaders also met the top brass of the EC to raise its concerns over alleged poll code violations by BJP leaders and flagged concerns over the ‘delay’ in the release of voter turnout figures for the first two phases of the polls.

In its response, the EC condemned Kharge’s statement in which he wondered whether the ‘delay’ in releasing voter turnout data was an “attempt to doctor the final results”.

The poll panel said it found Kharge’s letter, placed in the public domain in the middle of the ongoing electoral process, “highly undesirable” and designed to create confusion, misdirection and impediment to the conduct of smooth, free and fair elections.

“Through innuendos and insinuations, the contents of the post tend to create disharmony in respect of the delicate space of election management, can plant doubts in the minds of voters and political parties and potentially create an anarchic situation when you said ‘could this be an attempt to doctor the final results?’ which this Commission hopes you do not have any intention of,” the EC said.

In a series of annexures, the poll authority also gave a factual matrix on changes in voter turnout trends during different phases of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and subsequent assembly elections.

It underlined that booth-wise voter turnout data is available with all contesting candidates and suggested that the Congress should have analysed the data before levelling allegations.

In his letter to INDIA bloc leaders, Kharge had said that “apart from the delay, the voter turnout data released by the Commission does not mention crucial yet related figures, such as the votes polled in each parliamentary constituency and in the respective assembly constituencies.”

He said if the voter turnout data was published within 24 hours of voting along with the crucial figures, then people would have known if the increase of “5%” had been witnessed across constituencies or only in constituencies where the ruling regime had not performed well in the 2019 elections.

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