Thursday, May 22, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

70 pc polling in Fatehabad
Bhajan Lal detained, CJM intervenes
Yoginder Gupta & Sushil Manav
Tribune News Service

Fatehabad, May 21
Over 70 per cent voters of the Fatehabad Assembly constituency exercised their right to vote today despite a severe heat wave and apprehension of violence. The polling was by and large peaceful except a few minor incidents.

The voters turned out in large numbers as soon as the polling began at 8 a.m. At many booths about 30 per cent polling was recorded in the first three hours. Long queues were seen outside the booths even before the polling began. However, the voter turnout slowed as the day peaked but it picked up again around 3 p.m.

Senior leaders of the ruling Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), including ministers and MLAs, and those of the Congress and the Haryana Vikas Party were present at various booths. Fearing a ban on the movement of vehicles on the polling day most of these leaders had reached their destinations, last evening.

Those ministers, who were present in Fatehabad town, including Transport Minister, Ashok Arora; and Urban Development Minister, Subhash Goel, went to various booths on foot. They were encouraging their party workers and at the same time advising them to keep their calm.

Mr Arora found himself in an awkward situation when a party worker told him in the presence of newspersons that a “visit by the field marshal is needed to drive the brothers of the Congress candidate, Mr Dura Ram, away from the grain market area”. The younger son of the Chief Minister, Mr Abhey Singh Chautala, is known as “field marshal” among his supporters. The party worker, who could not catch the disapproving eye of Mr Arora, went on to say that they had managed to take Mr Goel inside the polling booths at the office of the market committee to “discipline” polling agents of the rival parties.

However, Mr Dwarka Prasad, brother of Mr Dura Ram, alleged that at one of the booths in the Market Committee office, the polling staff was allowing voters to cast their vote without ascertaining their identity. He also alleged that a presiding officer was insisting that only a voter listed in a particular ward could become the polling agent of a candidate, though the rules were clear that any voter of the Fatehabad constituency could become the polling agent.

The presiding officer told visiting newspersons that the returning officer had given them verbal instructions in this regard.

Meanwhile, the Haryana Congress President, Mr Bhajan Lal, had to seek the court’s intervention when the police did not allow him to move out of the PWD Rest House. In an application moved through his counsel, Mr S.S. Thakral, before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Mr R.N. Bharati, Mr Bhajan Lal said he had been detained at the rest house by the police without any cause and he was being stopped from casting his vote at his native village.

The Judge directed the police to produce Mr Bhajan Lal before the court if he was wanted in any criminal case. “He should not be detained unless his movements were detrimental to the election process or polling and were not in contravention of any direction of the Election Commission,” the court order said.

Armed with the court order, Mr Bhajan Lal, who was accompanied by Mr Karan Singh Dalal, RPI MLA, and Black Cat commandos, moved out of the rest house in his Mercedes. A police contingent was also on his tail. Near the Cheemo Head on the Kullan-Ratia road, the police made an unsuccessful attempt to stop Mr Bhajan Lal.

A drama ensued near Bighar village when the SP (Sirsa), Mr A.S. Ahlawat, who was on security duty here, stood in front of Mr Bhajan Lal’s vehicle and dared him to drive over him. When Mr Bhajan Lal showed him the court order he reportedly told him that he would seek instructions from his superiors before allowing him to go further.

Mr Bhajan Lal then boarded an open Gypsy parked in front of the motorcade. He drove away on a dusty track with the police and his security following him.

Later Mr Bhajan Lal said he would consult his lawyers if a contempt petition could be filed against Mr Ahlawat. He said the ruling party had tried to rig the elections at a number of places but the Congress workers had foiled its attempts.

The Inspector-General of Police, Hisar range, Mr Resham Singh, said there was no report of any untoward incident.

Meanwhile, the Chief Minister, Mr Om Prakash Chautala, thanked the voters of Fatehabad for a peaceful election.


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