Now, Punjab candidates stand vigil where EVMs stored (Election Special)
The last time this happened was 37 years ago when citizens' groups stood guard outside the rooms where the boxes containing the ballots cast in the 1977 general election - after the emergency was lifted - were stored. It's now being replicated by some candidates in Punjab, in effect a third ring of security at the places where the EVMs in which the votes cast for the state's 13 Lok Sabha seats have been kept.
It's a different matter that these premises are guarded 24x7 by armed central para-military forces and an outer security ring of the Punjab Police ahead of the May 16 vote count.
Still, be it Bathinda, Mansa, Ludhiana or other places, candidates and political parties are not ready to take any chances. Their activists are guarding the EVMs from outside as opposition parties and leaders apprehend that the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) might be up to no good.
The opposition Congress, which had supported People's Party of Punjab (PPP) president and former finance minister Manpreet Badal in Bathinda, has deployed its cadres on a round-the-clock vigil near the premises where the EVMs have been kept under heavy guard in Bathinda and Mansa districts.
The Bathinda Lok Sabha seat saw a bitter contest between Akali Dal incumbent MP Harsimrat Badal, who is the daughter-in-law of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, and the chief minister's estranged nephew Manpreet Badal. Harsimrat is the wife of Akali Dal president and Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.
"Though the central forces are guarding the EVMs, we don't want to take chances. Our workers are on round-the-clock vigil in Bathinda and Mansa. The workers don't mind sitting in the open in shifts," Bathinda Congress rural president Parvinder Singh said.
Elections to all 13 parliamentary seats from the state were held in a single phase April 30. The main contest is between the Akali Dal-BJP combine, the Congress and the new entrant, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
The contest is said to be a bitter one on most seats which no clear indication of one or the other party having the upper hand. The entry of AAP candidates has made the situation even more uncertain.
The Congress has given a tough fight to the Akali Dal-BJP combine by fielding senior leaders like former chief minister Amarinder Singh (Amritsar), former union minister Ambika Soni (Anandpur Sahib), leader of opposition Sunil Jakhar (Ferozepur) and state Congress chief Pratap Singh Bajwa (Gurdaspur).
Some AAP candidates like comedian Bhagwant Mann (Sangrur), lawyer H.S. Phoolka (Ludhiana) and cardiologist Dharamveer Gandhi (Patiala) are also strong contenders.
In Ludhiana, independent candidate Simarjeet Singh Bains, who was once in the Akali Dal, has deputed his supporters to keep vigil at the premises where the EVMs are kept.
"Even though the security is fool-proof, it is our right to keep vigil to prevent any wrong-doing," an aide of Bains told IANS.
Bains has a considerable following in Ludhiana.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 09-05-2014)