With the vote-count in India’s national elections just a few hours away on Thursday, rival political parties bidding for power on Wednesday sought to project a picture of confidence about victory as security was beefed up at all the places across the country where electronic voting machines are kept following apprehensions about their possible tampering.
The allies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi swathed him in a victory garland on Tuesday night, seeking to project that he would return to power for a second straight term while the opposition continued efforts to put together a non-BJP coalition in the event of majority of 272 seats in the 542-member Lok Sabha eluding Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party and its alliance partners.
Modi met leaders from his ruling alliance, receiving garlands and shawls from them in a show of optimism. Flanked by BJP president Amit Shah, Modi met his cabinet and party colleagues and dozens of leaders from regional parties which form the alliance. On the other hand, key opposition leader N Chandrababu Naidu of Telugu Desam Party on Wednesday continued to put together an anti-BJP government if the BJP and its allies fall short of majority. Naidu met regional satrap H D Deve Gowda, a former Prime Minister, and his son and Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy in Bengaluru discussing the future strategy.
Exit polls have predicted a clear win for Modi in the election that ended on Sunday last but such polls in India have often proved off the mark. But Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday broke his silence on the exit polls terming them as “fraudulent”. Both Rahul and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the Congress general secretary, urged party workers to ignore exit poll surveys, not lose heart, and to remain vigilant at vote-count centres. “Don’t let rumors and exit polls discourage you. This is being spread to break your determination,” Priyanka said in an audio message late on Monday.
“This has further raised the need for you to remain alert. Please keep vigil outside strongrooms and counting centres. We are confident that our combined efforts will bear fruit,” she said, referring to centres where electronic voting machines are kept. The Election Commission said it had received some allegations about attempts to tamper with voting machines in strongrooms but maintained they were not true. “All such reports and allegations are absolutely false, and factually incorrect,” the EC said in a statement.
The opposition parties have expressed doubts over the security of EVMs but Election Commission officials said all arrangements have been made for smooth counting of votes which will begin at 8 am Indian time. Extra precaution is being taken in sensitive districts and prohibitory orders have been imposed, sources said, adding the EC has already banned victory processions and warned that no laxity in compliance of orders would be tolerated.
A three-tier security system has been put in place at the counting centres all over the state with deployment of sufficient number of personnel from paramilitary forces and state police to ensure smooth conduct of counting and strict compliance of law and order. The staggered general election, billed as the world’s biggest democratic exercise drew a turnout of a little more than 67 per cent of India’s 900 million eligible voters.
The counting of votes will be held amidst tight security with thousands of policemen and CCTV cameras deployed at the counting centres. After the end of counting, five randomly selected Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips from each Assembly segment of that particular Lok Sabha seat would be matched with the electronic voting machines (EVMs), the Election Commission said on Wednesday.
A 24- hour EVM control room has been made functional at the national headquarters of the EC in New Delhi to monitor complaints relating to polled EVMs. The complaints related to storage issues at strongrooms, security of strongrooms, permissions to candidates to post their agents at strongrooms, CCTV, monitoring the movement of EVMs and any complaints during counting related to EVMs can be informed at control room phone numbers.
Meanwhile, the EC on Wednesday rejected the opposition demand for tallying the VVPAT (Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail) slips before the votes in Electronic Voting Machines are counted. The verification of EVM votes with VVPAT slips from five random polling booths in each assembly segment - made mandatory by the Supreme Court -- will be done after the counting of votes and not before, the Commission said.
A delegation of representatives of 22 opposition parties had met the EC with the demand for conducting the VVPAT verification process before the counting of votes begins. In case of discrepancy, they demanded that 100 per cent votes from the assembly segment should be tallied. Narendra Modi, several of his cabinet colleagues, Congress President Rahul Gandhi, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav are among key leaders who contested the polls
Most exit polls have predicted that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is on course to retain power for a second term, riding on Modi's charisma. However, opposition parties have rejected the results of the exit polls, claiming that the BJP will suffer severe drubbing due to rising unemployment, farm distress and slowdown in the economy.
The voting in the national poll was staggered between April 11 and May 19 in which around 600 million voters, ten million of them first-time voters, of the total of 900 million electorate exercised their franchise to elect 542 members of the Lok Sabha from a total of 8,049 contestants. Out of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, elections were held in 542 constituencies as the EC cancelled polls to the Vellore constituency in Tamil Nadu on the ground of excessive use of money power.
In the previous 2014 elections, the BJP had won 282 seats, a clear majority to a single party for the first time in more than three decades, while the Congress suffered its worst electoral performance getting 44 seats as against 206 it won in 2009.
Election Commission officials said the counting of votes will begin at 8.00 am Indian time and results are expected only by late evening. EC officials said that as per procedure, postal ballots would be the first to be counted. The number of service voters stands at 18 lakh and these include personnel of the armed forces, central police force personnel and state police personnel who are posted outside their constituencies. Diplomats and support staff posted in Indian embassies abroad are also counted as service voters. Out of the 18 lakh registered voters, 16.49 lakh have sent their postal ballots to their respective returning officers as on May 17.