With barely two months left to the Karnataka Assembly elections, a controversy regarding deletion of voters has erupted in Bangalore Urban’s Shivajinagar constituency, a seat Congress has retained since 2008.
Despite the final electoral roll for the constituency being published on 15 January, an exercise to determine whether over 9,000 people from the area will be allowed to vote or not is currently underway.
That’s not all, Shivajinagar has around 1.91 lakh voters, at least 40 percent of whom are Muslims.
While updation of electoral rolls is a common process, the exercise in Shivajinagar is being seen as a violation of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) laid down by the Election Commission of India on 13 September 2021, which stated that suo motu deletions cannot be made in the six months prior to the Assembly elections.
Notably, the residents claim that the deletion process is unfair since a majority of them still reside at their addresses and have not shifted anywhere.
So, how did the controversy begin? What do the residents have to say? And how does the election commission justify this ongoing process? The Quint visited the Shivajinagar constituency to bring you answers.
How Did the Controversy Begin?
The controversy reportedly began after a private complaint was filed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sympathisers in October 2022 listing out that 26,000 people were fake voters and had been identified as either shifted out or dead in the constituency.
However, the election commission followed this up only in January this year. While the final electoral roll was being prepared and was published on 15 January, process to send notices to 9,159 voters was underway.
After the final electoral roll was published, the BJP stepped in and on 23 January demanded the removal of the 26,000 names from the electoral roll. This was followed by a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court on 1 February.
Chief Electoral Officer of Karnataka Manoj Kumar Meena told The News Minute (TNM) that election officials cross checked all 26,000 names and found that 9,159 voters had either shifted to other addresses or had passed away.
Following this, notices have been issued to hundreds of people between asking them to appear before the election authorities. If those reported to have shifted or died don’t appear before the Electoral Registration Office (ERO) on the given date and time, their names will be deleted from the electoral list.
What Do the Residents Have To Say?
44-year-old Abdul Zaheer, a resident of Shivajinagar’s Makaan Compund, told The Quint, “BBMP officials had come to verify who all those who lived here, but they squabbled with us and left in a hurry.”
When asked why Zaheer’s name is subject to removal, even after the officials met him, he said, “I don’t know. They have put the names of 33 people from our family for removal from the electoral roll. My father passed away two months ago, so removing his name is justified but why remove everyone’s name?”
Similarly, 50-year-old Kauser, whose name is subject to removal, said that she was born in the house. “We have not been told why our names have been highlighted. No reason was given to us."
Zaheer claimed that several people have not even got the notices yet, making it impossible for them to prove their right to vote from the constituency.
Nazia Banu, mother of one, who has been living at her husband’s residence for 12 years, showed the notice she received from the election authorities. “Nobody came to hand this to us. We got it through the postman. I had voted from this constituency last time as well. I and my sister-in-law, who stays on the first floor, are the only ones to get the notice in our family.”
The notice states, “It has been reported to the undersigned that you are not ordinarily residing at the above address or no response has been made by you to our letter…and thus, it is presumed, that you have ceased to be ordinarily resident in the constituency at the above mentioned address.”
The Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) proposes to delete her name under the Provsions of Section 22 of the Representation of the People Act 1950/Rule 21A of Registration of Electors Rules 1960 on the same ground.
The notice adds that if Banu has anything to submit against the proposed action, she may do so at the ERO’s office on a given date and time.
Banu told The Quint that she and her sister-in-law will visit the ERO to "fix this mistake."
What Did the Chief Electoral Officer for Karnataka Say?
Two identical clarifications regarding media reports, dated 17 and 24 February, were shared with The Quint.
They read, “With reference to the above mentioned subject and reports published in various media, it is hereby clarified that, based on certain complaints related to Shivajinagar Assembly Constituency, verification was done and found that 9,195 persons were not found in their residence and 1,847 persons were reported to be dead. Among these, no names have been deleted yet. Necessary action is being taken as per the guidelines by sending notices to these voters and Standard Operating Procedure of the Election Commission of India is being followed. It may be noted that the complainants have already filed Writ Petition in Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka and the matter is sub-Judice.”
It added, “It may be noted that Election Commission of India do not capture any data of voters related to caste and religion and hence deletions of names based on caste or religion does not arise.”
The Quint was given an appointment to meet Chief Electoral Officer Manoj Kumar Meena at his office. However, the meeting was canceled at the last minute and a phone interview could not be conducted. We were however redirected to Jadiyappa, Joint Director, Information Department, who shared the two clarifications.
On being asked why some people had not received the notice, he said, “The process is ongoing and the notices are still being sent. This will continue till the polling dates are announced.”
The opposition has severely criticised the exercise with the Shivajinagar Congress MLA Rizwan Arshad raising the matter in the Legislative Assembly.
Speaking to reporters, Arshad said, “Electoral rolls were finalised on 15 January in my constituency (Shivajinagar). After 15 January, they choose to issue notices to 9,200 voters and selective voters belonging only to the minority communities (SC/STs and the Muslim community) and selective booths. My constituency has 193 booths, they chose only 91 booths. Is this free and fair election? The justification they say is that the BJP submitted a complaint. We have represented the matter to the Election Commission. I have also submitted a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court. But if this precedent is set, then there will be no free and fair election in this country. Democracy will die. Everytime, they will target an area, delete voter names, and then conduct the elections."
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