By Jaideep Sarin
Chandigarh, Sep 28 : Punjab’s opposition Congress and the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance are not only fighting it out on the ground for next year’s assembly elections but on the technology front too.
The Congress, which has been out of power in the state for nearly a decade, has raised questions about the electronic voting machines (EVMs) to be used by the Election Commission (EC) in the January-February elections.
Punjab Congress president and former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has pointed out that his party did not trust the EVMs lying in Punjab which are likely to be used for the elections. He alleged that the EVMs could be manipulated by government officials, who are directly under the Punjab government, to the advantage of the ruling Akali Dal-BJP combine.
“The Election Commission should ensure that EVMs are brought from other states so that there is no scope for manipulation,” said Amarinder Singh, who has raised the issue with the EC.
The Congress complaint to the EC prompted an angry retort from Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, who is also the Akali Dal’s chief patron.
“The EVMs are under the EC and the state government has no control over these. If they (Congress) want, they can get the EVMs from London. There is not even remotest possibility of their tampering by state or even the Centre,” Badal contended.
With the issue generating concern, the State Election Commission had to step in.
Punjab Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) V.K. Singh said EVMs from Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Jammu and Kashmir would be brought in for the Punjab assembly polls.
“We have asked all political parties to verify the machines themselves if they so wished,” V.K. Singh said, adding that each of the 35,000 machines were being checked by engineers from the public sector Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) before being put to use.
But the Akali Dal is questioning Amarinder Singh’s allegations on the EVMs.
“The Congress knows that it is losing the next assembly elections. They are already looking for excuses,” Akali Dal president and Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal said.
Terming Amarinder Singh’s remarks as “ridiculous”, state BJP secretary Vineet Joshi asserted that the Congress will lose in the upcoming assembly polls.
The Akali Dal-BJP alliance has been in power in Punjab since 2007. The combine was returned to power in the 2012 assembly polls.
The contest this time has been made interesting with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) emerging on Punjab’s political scene and a bunch of other leaders also trying to forge a fourth front.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at email@example.com)