CHANDIGARH —Milan Gupta, a Delhi voter, has accused the officials manning a polling booth in Dwarka of forcing him to reveal his secret vote and threatening that he would be arrested after he complained to them that there was a mismatch between his vote and that recorded on the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machine.
The 40-year-old management consultant also alleged that he was wrongly detained by the police for four hours on Sunday, when all seven Lok Sabha seats in Delhi went to the polls in the sixth phase of voting.
“They threatened to put me behind bars and called my wife repeatedly asking her to either force me to take back the complaint of VVPAT mismatch or else bid goodbye to me for the next six months. They even forced me to reveal my secret vote during the VVPAT Test,” Gupta told HuffPost India over the phone.
In a series of tweets shared late Sunday night, Gupta narrated the harassment he went through and how the poll officials at booth number 96 in Dwarka’s Matiala and Delhi police personnel were not equipped to deal with his complaint.
“The poll officials asked me not to file written complaint as I can be arrested under section 177 of IPC. It was shocking to know that the poll officials were not aware that section 177 is a non-cognizable offence and a court order is required to lodge an FIR or to arrest a person in this case,” said Gupta, an alumnus of IIT Bombay and IIM Lucknow.
Section 177 of the Indian Penal Code carries a penalty of imprisonment up to six months or a fine up to Rs 1,000 or both if found guilty of furnishing false information to any public servant.
With just 59 seats left for the final phase of voting on 19 May, Election Commission officials have received numerous complaints from people who have been unable to vote as their names were missing from the electoral rolls.
Last month, Assam’s former DGP Hare Krishna Deka also reported a VVPAT malfunction but didn’t lodge a formal complaint fearing punishment if the claim couldn’t be proved.
“There was no way to prove my claim and I could have easily become an accused instead of the complainant. So, I restrained myself from lodging a formal complaint,” Deka told HuffPost India over the phone.
Complaint, then intimidation
Gupta, however, refused to bow under pressure and asked the presiding officer to lodge a complaint. But they, he said, asked him to speak to his wife who had cast her vote in the morning and was at home with their two-year-old son.
“Since I was not carrying the phone inside the booth, one of the officers gave me his phone and asked me to speak to her. I called and informed her that I am going ahead with the police complaint and I will be back home soon,” said Milan.
Then, he said, poll officials began calling his wife repeatedly, asking her to either force her husband to not file a police complaint or to say goodbye to him for six months as he would go to jail.
“My son was not well and hence we came by turns to cast our vote. With repeated calls from the poll officials, she was almost scared to death. I have shared with police the phone numbers of the poll officials who had called my wife repeatedly and demanded stern action against them,” said Gupta.
Later, poll officials even told Gupta that in all the elections where VVPATs have been used so far, no Indian has submitted the complaint in the required format of Annexure 6 and that he should withdraw his complaint.
VVPATs have been used in Indian elections since 2017 after multiple complaints of EVM tampering.
After Gupta insisted that he wanted to lodge a complaint, he was made to sign a declaration under Rule 49 MA of Election Rules, 1961, which states that as per the penal provisions of section 177 of IPC, he could be arrested if the declaration given by him was found to be incorrect.
“In my declaration I mentioned that the paper slip generated by the printer attached to the VVPAT showed the name of a candidate other than the on I voted for and I am ready to cast a test vote again to show that the allegation made by me is true and bonafide,” said Gupta.
But, he alleged, the presiding officer and her team asked him to press the same button in front of them. When Gupta refused to reveal his secret vote and asked them to show the provisions of a test vote in writing, the poll officials said that they were following the process taught to them in the training.
“I refused and said that I will press a random button. I closed my eyes and pressed a button which was found to be of an independent candidate with ‘brick’ as the election symbol. Within minutes, the printer issued a paper slip with ‘brick’ printed on it,” said Gupta.
The poll officials, he said, called the police and asked them to arrest Gupta, but under the provisions of action 177, they did not arrest him, but took him to the Sector 9 police station in Dwarka.
“The police officers kept calling election officers, asking them what to do with me. They couldn’t figure out for four hours. I was there all the time, illegally detained. Somewhere I lost my patience with the police staff and asked them to either arrest me formally or let me go home ,” said Gupta.
Finally, Gupta, who had gone to cast his vote at around 4 pm, was released around 10:30 pm.
Dwarka DCP Anto Alphonse told HuffPost India that Gupta was released as the ECI has to first approach the court to seek his arrest. “We cannot arrest him under section 177 of IPC as it is a non-cognizable offence. We cannot arrest him without court’s order,” said Alphonse.
The office of the Delhi Chief Electoral Officer denied that Gupta was asked to reveal his vote, saying that his allegation was found to be false after the test vote. In his reply on Twitter, Gupta said this was wrong.
In his tweets, Gupta said that the polling officials did not follow the ECI’s rules on what they should do if a voter complains about a mismatch.
He also tweeted out a copy of his complaint.
“Will my vote be counted despite my written complaint? Will the VVPAT machine be correct, if the test vote was conducted on any random button pressed on EVM? I hope someone out there is worried about these questions if they claim to care about democracy,” he added.