Thursday, February 14, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Violence marks polling in Punjab
Firing incidents in Gidderbaha, Fatehgarh Churian; clashes elsewhere
Tribune Reporters

Chandigarh, February 13
At least half-a-dozen sporadic incidents of clashes and skirmishes, including two firing episodes, between supporters of various political parties marked polling in Punjab today. The tentative poll percentage for all 17 districts is around 65. Voting was held for 116 seats.

While one firing incident took place in the Gidderbaha constituency in Muktsar, the other was at Behlolpur village in the Fatehgarh Churian constituency of Gurdaspur. Some persons received injuries. The police has registered two cases of poll-related violence, one against the Punjab Finance Minister, Capt Kanwaljit Singh, and the other against Mr Sidhant Rinwa, son of the state BJP President, Mr Brij Lal Rinwa, who is alleged to have abducted three persons.

The police resorts to lathi charge to disperse a mob in Dhakka Colony of Ludhiana; and a long queue of voters waiting for their turn to cast their vote at Mubarikpur, near Dera Bassi, in the Punjab Assembly elections on Wednesday. — Tribune photographs

The Additional Chief Electoral Officer, Mrs Usha R. Sharma, said in all six cases of poll-related violence, the police had registered FIRs against supporters of the SAD, the Congress and the BJP, besides those of an Independent candidate. Some BJP workers were injured in Batala town, where blunt weapons were used in a clash between BJP and Congress workers. In Abohar, three persons were injured in a clash between the Congress and supporters of Mr Sudhir Nagpal, an Independent candidate. Likewise, in Lalru, there was an incident that led to stone-throwing and registration of a case against Capt. Kanwaljit Singh. The supporters of the SAD candidate reportedly resorted to firing in the air in Gidderbaha, where Mr Manpreet Singh Badal, a nephew of the Chief Minister is a candidate. In Fazilka, the state BJP President’s son created problems.

There was no incident of either “adjournment” or “re-poll” in any constituency or polling station. There were instances of ‘’malfunctioning’’ of the electronic voting machines (EVMs) resulting in replacement of at least 50.

Mrs Sharma said at least one presiding officer, Mr Jogi Guru, in Jandiala Guru (Amritsar) was replaced when found allegedly sozzled.

Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh casts his vote in Patiala on Wednesday. — PTI photo

Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal at a polling booth in Lambi constituency.

Mr Gurcharan Singh Tohra, Sarab-Hind Shiromani Akali Dal president, castes his vote in his native village Tohra, in Amloh constituency of Fategarh Sahib district.

Former Chief Minister of Punjab and Congress candidate from Muktsar Harcharan Singh Brar castes his vote at Sarai Naga village in Muktsar.

A policeman guards a sealed  room where voting machines were kept before sending to polling statio
ns in  Amritsar   on Tuesday . — PTI photo

In all a total of 57 poll-related complaints were received today, mostly pertaining to “deletion” of names from the voters lists. Such complaints chiefly poured in from Patiala and Ropar districts. The Additional CEO said, “We are sorry that due to this several people missed a chance to cast their vote. We will certainly enquire as to how the names were deleted”.

When the last reports came in the following confirmed polling percentages were available for only six districts: Kapurthala — 60, Ropar — 65, Sangrur — 65, Mansa — 67, Bathinda — 63, and Fatehgarh Sahib 62.

In respect of the remaining districts, the tentative percentage was, Gurdaspur — 53, Amritsar — 50, Jalandhar — 54, Hoshiarpur — 46, Ludhiana — 50, Patiala — 56, Ferozepore — 48, Faridkot — 54, Nawanshahr — 52, Muktsar — 59, and Moga — 50.

While the final poll percentage, including urban-rural break-up, district and constituency-wise would be available tomorrow, it is believed that the overall percentage may be around 65 against 68.73 per cent in 1997.

But the poll percentage in Lambi, from where Mr Parkash Singh Badal is contesting is 68 and that of Patiala town, from where Capt Amarinder Singh is contesting, is 50.

In 1997, the SAD had polled 37.64 per cent votes to bag 75 seats out of 92 it had contested, while the Congress polled 26.59 per cent votes to win 14 seats out of 105 it contested. The BJP polled 8.33 per cent votes and bagged 18 seats out of 22 it had contested.

Gidderbaha: Firing and stone-pelting took place in this prestigious constituency between supporters of two main contenders, sitting MLA Manpreet Singh Badal and Congress candidate Raghubir Singh, leaving many injured.

Information gathered by TNS revealed that six persons suffered injuries in the violence. Besides, four vehicles belonging to Congress workers were severely damaged by their opponents. More than 70 per cent voters of this Assembly segment exercised their franchise. Incidents of firing in the air were reported from near Dhanak Dharamshala, Pauri Road and Government Senior Secondary School for Girls.

Residents alleged that police personnel played a partisan role to help a particular candidate and remained a mute spectator to the violence.

A senior member of a religious body, who wields considerable influence in the corridors of power, allegedly headed a group of goons fetched from outside Punjab. SAD and Congress workers levelled allegations against one another.

At Bhairupa village in the Rampuraphul Assembly segment, policemen allegedly beat up supporters of Mr Gurpreet Singh Kangar, an Akali rebel and Independent candidate, and supporters of Lok Bhalai Party candidate Nachhattar Singh while they were standing at their respective booths.

Sources said Lok Bhalai Party functionaries lodged a complaint with the District Election Officer, Mr R. Venkat Ratnam, in connection with the “high-handedness” of policemen.

Mr Parkash Singh Badal, Chief Minister, cast his vote at 9 a.m. at his native village Badal.

Ferozepore: Violence was reported from the Ferozepore Cantonment and Abohar Assembly seats during polling.

In Abohar, four persons were injured in clashes between supporters of Congress candidate Sunil Jakhar and Independent candidate Sudhir Nagpal. According to the police, the supporters of Mr Nagpal attacked Mr Surinder Vij, former Congress councillor, and his associates, leaving him injured. He was rushed to the local Civil Hospital.

In retaliation, the Congress supporters chased the suspects and attacked them, leaving two persons injured. They were also admitted to the Civil Hospital.

In the Ferozepore Cantonment seat, SAD workers clashed with Congress supporters in the presence of SAD candidate Janmeja Singh Sekhon, leaving one person injured.

In the Ferozepore City constituency, three persons were injured at Subakadeem village following a clash between Congress workers and supporters of an Independent candidate.

In Jalalabad and Guru Har Sahai also the situation remained tense.

Bathinda: Even as stray incidents of violence kept the police authorities on tenterhooks during polling in different Assembly segments of the district, approximately 63 per cent voters exercised their franchise.

The stray incidents of violence were reported from a number of localities in the town, including Pujan Wala Mohalla, Guru Nanakpura, Arya Samaj Chowk and Ganesha Basti.

Hundreds of voters from this and the surrounding districts returned home disappointed after they were denied their right to cast their vote by the polling authorities when they failed to find their names in the voter lists despite having voters’ identity cards.

Ludhiana: Unruly scenes and sporadic incidents of violence marred polling in Ludhiana. The police had to resort to a lathi charge in one of the polling booths in which 10 persons sustained injuries. In another polling booth voters were not allowed to cast their votes despite producing voter identitycards, resulting in minor scuffles.

In Dr Ambedkar Nagar, also known as Dhaka Colony falling under the Ludhiana West constituency, the police had to resort to lathi charge at least thrice to disperse the crowd following altercations between supporters of various candidates.

A Bord
er Security Force jawan keeps watch in the sensitive Patti constituency from where Mr Adesh Partap Singh Kairon, son-in-law of the Chief Minister, is seeking re-election. — Photo Rajiv Sharma

There was a heavy turnout of voters in the morning in rural constituencies while in the city, polling picked up around noon. Most polling booths in the city wore a deserted look around closing hours except for those in the suburbs and The periphery where at some places, queues of voters could be seen.

Raikot: Polling in this constituency, from where a son of a former Sikh religious leader is trying his luck, witnessed an average turnout and a number of skirmishes, especially at Raikot city, Kalimpura and Talwandi villages.

Though the heavy presence of Punjab police personnel and paramilitary forces prevented any major violent incident, yet polling by and large remained tension-ridden. The highlight of the polling was a good turnout of female voters and tension caused by the presence of former SGPC President Jagdev Singh Talwandi at several places, especially in the city where he allegedly tried to enter some polling booths. His move was opposed by Congress and other parties’ workers, which led to skirmishes.

Jalandhar: Minor skirmishes, protest dharnas, a shooting incident, and inconvenience to voters due to faulty electronic voting machines (EVMs) marked the polling scene in the Doaba region of Punjab, which generally remained peaceful and recorded a comparatively low voter turnout.

Polling was disrupted at Duggan village, near Phagwara, as a gunman of Raja Balbir Sodhi, a Congress leader, fired in the air, when the Sarpanch of the village, Mrs Opinder Kaur, who was accompanying Mrs Baljindre Kaur Mann, wife of Congress candidate from Phagwara Joginder Singh Mann, and her supporters objected to Mr Sodhi’s “anti-Congress” activities in the village. As the supporters of Mrs Mann and Mr Sodhi clashed, the gunman allegedly fired in the air, which created panic in the village.

Another firing incident was reported from Shahkot, where Congress candidate and former minister Brij Bhupinder Lalli allegedly fired at a person, who, according to him, was a proclaimed offender and was campaigning for his rival, Punjab minister Ajit Singh Kohar. The Kohar camp has denied this and has sought the culprit’s arrest.

Another clash among workers of the Congress and the BSP took place at Lambra village.

In an incident of pre-poll violence, a petrol bomb-like object was allegedly hurled at the vehicle of former Hoshiarpur MP in the Civil Lines area on Tuesday night. His car was partly damaged in the incident.

Meanwhile, faulty voting machines created problems for voters outside polling booths some villages in Jalandhar district. These villages include Lambran, Kalyanpur, Basesarpur, Dhogri, Adampur, Khurla and Khusropur.

Punjab Medical Education Minister Manoranjan Kalia was detained by a mob for two hours in a polling booth here on Wednesday evening after he had allegedly slapped a relative of a Congress candidate earlier in the day.

The incident occurred in polling booth No. 82 at Government Primary School in Harnamdaspura.

The minister had allegedly slapped Sunita, daughter-in-law of Congress candidate Raj Kumar Gupta, when she went there to cast her vote in the morning, reportedly without carrying any identity proof.

Fatehgarh Sahib: No untoward incident was reported from the Amloh and Sirhind constituencies during polling, which passed off in a peaceful manner in Fatehgarh Sahib district. Mr Vikas Partap, District Election Officer, said in the Sirhind constituency 54 per cent and in the Amloh constituency, 65 per cent polling took place.

Amritsar: Barring a few incidents of violence, polling passed off peacefully in border districts of Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Ferozepore even as two presiding officers, who were caught in an inebriated state in Tarn Taran, have been placed under suspension.

Mansa: A peaceful atmosphere and voters' enthusiasm notwithstanding the four constituencies Joga, Mansa, Sardulgarh and Budhlada, in the district polled 10 per cent less votes than the 1997 elections. However, there was resentment in all constituencies since hundreds of voters discovered that their votes had been cancelled.

According to conservative estimates, nearly 10,000 votes had been cancelled in the Mansa constituency alone, including that of comrade Jagir Singh, Joga, a freedom fighter and four-time legislator from the constituency.

But for two incidents, a clash between supporters of two candidates at Peerkot in the Joga constituency and the seizure of lathis from a large group of students in the Sardulgarh constituency, no major untoward incident was reported till 6 p.m.

Patiala: A DSP got into a fight with a Panthic Morcha candidate in Samana, a complaint was recorded against the Finance Minister, Capt Kanwaljit Singh, for slapping a Congress worker in the Banur constituency and the police resorted to lathi charges at three places in the Rajpura constituency to disperse quarrelling BJP and Congress workers.

Besides, two persons were stabbed in Patiala and there were widespread complaints of votes being deleted in various constituencies, particularly Patiala from where the Pradesh Congress President, Capt Amarinder Singh, is contesting.

According to reports reaching here, Panthic Morcha candidate Jagtar Singh Rajla manhandled DSP Ashish Kapoor in protest against alleged rigging at the Dayanand Model School booth in Samana town. The DSP and his men reportedly rounded up Mr Rajla and took him into custody at the local police station. The station was soon surrounded by more than 1,000 supporters of the sitting legislator who also broke the panes of two police vehicles, besides resorting to sloganeering.

District police chief Paramraj Singh Umranangal said the DSP had objected to Panthic Morcha supporters arriving in three cars along with party flags to the booth. He said following this Mr Rajla arrived at the spot and got into an altercation with him. However, later reports disclosed that Mr Rajla was let off without any case being registered against him.

At Banur, however, a complaint has been recorded against Capt Kanwaljit Singh for slapping a Congress worker at Lalru in the constituency.


Exit poll: Cong heads for landslide victory

New Delhi, February 13
An exit poll telecast on Doordarshan has predicted a comfortable majority for the Congress in the 117-member Punjab Assembly, polling for which was held today.

The exit poll conducted by “C-fore’’ immediately after the polling in 116 constituencies in the state came to an end, clearly indicated that the Akali Dal-BJP government was on its way out in Punjab.

The Congress will get 72 seats, with a gain of 56 seats from the last Assembly elections in 1997. The SAD-BJP alliance is likely to get 30 seats, a loss of a staggering 63 seats.

The poll has predicted 41 per cent of the votes in favour of the Congress while it said the SAD will get 34 per cent.

The exit poll has further predicted just 14 seats for other parties and Independents.

Another poll conducted by Aaj Tak-C Voter shortly after polling ended also predicted a landslide victory for the Congress. It said the Congress would get 91 seats, a gain of 77 seats, the SAD-BJP 17, a loss of 75 seats, Panthic Morcha two and BSP one. Five seats would go to Independents, it said.

The Zee News-CMS exit poll predicts 80 seats for the Congress and 28 for the SAD-BJP combine and eight for the other parties. The Congress is expected to garner 43 per cent votes while the SAD is likely to get 35 per cent.

The exit poll showed that the SAD-BJP was headed for a drubbing in all three regions of the state, namely Malwa, Doaba and Majha. UNI


Over 10 pc denied franchise
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Mahilpur, February 13
In the absence of credible electoral rolls, a substantial number of voters, estimated to be more than 10 per cent of the total electorate in the state , carrying both voter identity cards and voter identity slips issued by the polling agents of the candidates, were sent back from polling booths following the last-minute deletion of their names from the poll rolls.

Not only the agitated voters but also the candidates went to the Returning Officers and District Electoral Officers to lodge formal protests, both verbal and in writing. They maintained that the Election Commission remained busy with trivial issues, including getting officials transferred, instead of concentrating on preparing credible electoral rolls.

The last-minute deletions, many officials confessed, were done at the instance of one political party or the other. No attempts were made to verify the facts before deleting the names.

“The deletions were done with a vengeance,” remarked a senior political leader. “If our party got the names of 200 voters deleted by alleging that these were ‘bogus’, our opponent got 400 voters deleted by making a similar allegation. The Assistant Returning Officers and Returning Officers got panicky after complaints of enlistment of bogus voters saw the commission taking action against three District Electoral Officers. Afterwards, any complaint about the enlistment of bogus voters saw the commission taking action against three District Electoral Officers. Afterwards, any complaint about the enlistment of bogus voters was acted upon without following the proper procedure,” he added holding the commission responsible for denying a fairly large number of genuine voters the right to franchise.

No voter against whose name a blue star was stamped was allowed to vote. In fact, instructions were issued that any such voter, whose name appeared in the deleted list as well as a blue star had been stamped against his or her name in the original voters’ list, should not be allowed to vote.

The extent of damage was almost 25 per cent at a Phagwara polling booth where 204 of 743 voters’ names were deleted. The situation was no different at another polling station on the Guru Ravi Das Education Society’s premises on the Hoshiarpur road where 114 votes were deleted. At one booth at Arya Samaj School, virtually every 10th vote was deleted. At Mahilpur, at one booth 94 votes were deleted.

A Tribune team that travelled through Ropar, Nawanshahr, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Fatehgarh Sahib districts found similar complaints everywhere and almost at every polling booth it visited. It did not find even a single booth where such large-scale deletions were not done. At places the Tribune team was confronted by agitated voters who wanted to know why they had been denied right to vote.

At Mahilpur, Mr Sohan Singh Thandal, a member of the Punjab Council of Ministers, told The Tribune that he had taken up the matter both with the Returning Officer of his constituency as well as the District Electoral Officer.

“A voter who has a photo identity card and has his name in the voters’ list should be allowed to vote. How can his name be deleted without his or her knowledge?” argued Mr Thandal.

At Rail Majra village, the polling was going on smoothly as the sarpanch of the village was issuing certificates to all those who were bona fide residents of the village but had none of the 16 proofs listed by the Election Commission. But at no other place such a certificate issued on the spot by the sarpanch was being accepted.

At Phagwara, a Presiding Officer told The Tribune that all those voters whose names appeared in the voters’ list but had blue stars stamped against their names also carried valid voters’ identity cards. “But we did not allow them to vote because of the instructions from the commission.”

At Tannuli village in the Shyam Chaurasi constituency, a woman voter, Ms Mohinder Kaur, whose name appeared in the voters’ list and who had a voter identity card, was not allowed to vote. In fact, another woman with the same name and belonging to the same village, who had neither the voter identity card and nor had her name in the voters’ list, had cast the vote before the actual voter came.

Incidentally, there were two sets of electoral rolls in circulation everywhere in Punjab — the first or the old set given to the candidates of recognised national and state parties and the other, revised until the last date of withdrawal of nomination papers , given to the polling staff. And the difference in the two sets of electoral rolls was substantial leading to confusion and chaos at various polling booths.

There was also confusion over the acceptance proof of identity of those voters who did not possess voters’ identity cards. At some places even the certification done by the sarpanch or an elected councillor of the area was accepted by the Presiding Officers but at other polling booths it was not.

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