KASARAGOD: A professor of Kerala Agricultural University has accused Udma MLA K Kunhiraman and CPM workers of threatening him when he tried to stop bogus voting as presiding officer in a booth at Alakkode village near Bekal.
KM Sreekumar of College of Agriculture at Padannakkad said he had to stand up to even collector D Sajith Babu when he advised him to not verify the voters. In a long Facebook post, the professor gave a detailed account of his experience. He said he also filed a complaint with the State Election Commission.
Sreekumar was posted as the presiding officer in a booth at Government Lower Primary School at Cherkapara, which he called a "party village, where the CPM has a brutal majority".
He said his team, which included four female officials, reached the school on the eve of the election on December 13.
In the evening, a few men came to him and said that only CPM polling agents would be there at the booth and that this booth saw a turnout of 94% in the previous election.
Every party deputes their polling agents inside the booth to call out bogus voters. The men told the professor that they expected a high turnout this time as well. "I smelled danger," he wrote on Facebook. At least 10% must be fraudulent, he wrote. "I politely told them it is our job to identify the voter and we will do it efficiently," he said.
The men, who said they are polling agents of the CPM, said they would see to it. On the election day on December 14, the State Election Commission's videographer turned up at 6 am. Sreekumar said his allegations were backed by video evidence.
The polling began at 7 am. The professor said when he started checking the identity of voters in the queue, the CPM's presidential candidate for Udma block panchayat and DYFI leader K Manikandan approached him and asked him to leave the job of verifying identity to the first polling officer.
Every time, he checked the documents, the polling agent would create a ruckus. Manikandan and another person approached him again and opposed it. "Manikandan raised his voice and the person who threatened me. To be honest, I got scared," Sreekumar said.
He said when a voter named Raveendran turned up to vote, he asked for the identity card and the polling agents pounced on him again. "The photo on the ID card with him was not clear. Raveendran said he had his driving licence. It was just a process of verification. But the agents created a ruckus and the Udma MLA who came to vote in the next booth came to me and asked me not to conduct verification," he said.
"The MLA said 'Just sit in the chair of the presiding officer and the first polling officer will examine the record'," the professor wrote on FB. Prof Sreekumar replied saying he knew where he had to sit. "To this, the MLA said the collector would call me and threatened to chop off my leg if I did not obey what was politely told to me," he wrote.
The police officer who was at the booth heard the MLA, he said. Soon, the collector called and suggested that the verification should be done by the first polling officer.
To this, the professor told the collector that during the parliamentary election, when bogus votes were cast at Pilathara in Kannur, the Election Commission pulled up the Presiding Officer, saying they did not fulfill their responsibility.
Yet, the professor said he got scared as if the leaders gave a call for violence there was little two police officers could do. Yet, the professor said he continued verifying voters intermittently.
Later, a woman and a man came and the polling agent said she was a CPM candidate. "When I asked for the ID card, the agent and the man with her created a fuss. They accused me of being a UDF agent," he said.
The man said: "You do not know what the CPM is. You will not go alive. We will not leave you. Don't you know what happened to the great DGP Jacob Thomas?" "I was numbed. His threat felt real," he said.
Later during the polling, when he stepped out, he saw a person who had already voted in his booth. "When I asked for his ID card, the booth agent started yelling at me saying if he did not have a problem why is the presiding officer creating a fuss," he wrote.
"Since there were no booth agents of other parties, I had to be more vigilant to ensure a fair election but they created a hostile ambiance," he said. After the polling, Prof Sreekumar's booth saw 84%, a drop of 10 percentage points from the previous term. "Even that could be high because people kept turning up with new ID cards even if they were sent back. How much can I resist," he said.
He said he waited so long before making public his ordeal because he wanted the heat and dust of the election to settle down. "I want people to introspect and discuss why we deserve a free and fair election," he said.
MLA denies charge
Udma MLA K Kunhiraman denied the charge saying that he just reminded the presiding officer to stick to his role.
"When I went to vote, I saw the officer not allowing Raveendran to vote. He has no right to stop a genuine voter for casting his vote," he said.
"When I am told he was verifying voters in the queue, I told him he had no right to check the identity of the voters. That was the job of the first polling officer. He was taking up the job of the policeman too," the MLA said.
When asked if he threatened to chop the leg of the presiding officer, the MLA said he did not. "In fact, I controlled the crowd," he said. Prof Sreekumar, who is a member of a CPM-affiliated teachers' association, said the presiding officer the area within a 200m radius of the polling station came under the jurisdiction of the presiding officer and they were well within their rights to act to ensure a fair election.
Sreekumar should have stopped polling: Collector
Collector Sajith Babu said the presiding officer is responsible for ensuring a free and fair election, but checking the veracity of the voters is the responsibility of the first polling officer. "What I understand is the election went out of Sreekumar's control in his booth. He should have never allowed the election to go out of his control," he said.
Prof Sreekumar should have stopped the polling if he suspected bogus voting was happening at his booth, and then informed the returning officer, the highest election officer in the district, said Sajith Babu. "He need not even consult the returning officer to stop the election," the collector said.