GANGTOK: While Sikkim’s first non-partisan municipal election is going to set the benchmark, reports of confusion among voters about the wards they belong to are coming from other wards before the civic election on March 31. After EastMojo reported on the allegations leveled by Lower Sichey candidate Bimla Gurung, now voters from MG Marg, DPH Colony, Tadong and Rangpo are also alleging that their names show up in electoral rolls of neighbouring wards instead of the wards they belong to.
On Thursday, Gurung, who is one of the five candidates competing from Lower Sichey, had alleged that almost 2,000 voters from the ward were missing from the electoral rolls. She claimed electoral fraud and said her name and that of her family members was missing from the third instalment of the electoral book of voter details.
“The 2,000 voters have not gone missing. They have been clubbed in the Upper Sichey ward as per the electoral presented to us by the State Election Commission, who took reference from the electoral roll prepared by Election Commission of India. The confusion is only with candidate Bimala Gurung and her supporters. It appears that the other four candidates from Lower Sichey have understood. We believe she too has understood how the voters are now part of Upper Sichey, but she fails to pacify her supporters or make them understand,” East District Collector and Returning Officer for East Ragul K told EastMojo.
How did 2K voters’ names go missing from electoral books?
The DC explains that the electoral roll is prepared as per directions from the ECI.
In the previous general election in 2019, most of the voters for Burtuk assembly constituency voted in the East District Administrative Centre, which had 4 polling stations.
“Similarly, there were voters in two polling stations in Sichey Secondary School and one polling station in Lingding Junior High School. So, whoever fell in the 4 polling stations of East DAC, inclusive of almost 1,000 voters for each polling station, are now part of Upper Sichey Ward, making it a ward of 4,000 voters,” Ragul K said.
Consequently, those that voted in the Sichey Secondary School with two polling station each having electoral roll of 1,224 and 1,304 voters and in Lingding Junior High School polling station with a strength of 854 voters, all of whom fall under the Lower Sichey Ward with 3,382 voters.
“The voters have merely been shifted to another ward depending on where they voted. The border dividing Upper and Lower Sichey is the Indira by-pass road. And despite the East DAC falling below the road, it was considered to be the polling station for Upper Sichey,” the DC explained.
Where did Bimala Gurung vote in the previous municipal polls?
Gurung says she, along with her family members and neighbours, had voted from Lingding ward.
“The ward was composite of our Sushanta Gram, where I live right below the Paljor Stadium. Now, the Lingding ward doesn’t exist. The ward has been clubbed with the Lower Sichey ward along with other neighbouring wards. So, prior to filing my nomination, to the day of withdrawal and even until the third electoral book was given to us on Thursday, it was notified to us by the District Collector, as well as officials from State Election Commission that Lingding ward and the voters from Lingding Junior High School Polling station would fall under Lower Sichey,” she says.
According to Gurung, the new electoral book given to them by the DC consists of 3,384 voters, but doesn’t have in it her name, or her family members. “Now our entire neighbourhood, surprisingly, doesn’t fall in the Lingding Ward. We went to Lingding JHS polling station to vote for the previous councillor from the Lingding Ward,” Gurung says.
Why now, Gurung asks, that the reference made in the electoral book as well as argument presented by the returning officer, claims that they fall in Upper Sichey?
“Because we voted in the four polling stations of East DAC during the General election of 2019. Now, they claim our electoral roll is in that polling station, thus making us voters from Upper Sichey.”
Was the change not notified to Bimala Gurung?
The East District Collector accepts that in some part an error was made by the State Election Commission, as two printed copies came out with the same mistake in varied degrees.
On March 11, once the DC’s office was done with the process of nominations and withdrawal, a meeting was convened between the five candidates from Lower Sichey and two candidates from Upper Sichey in order to help them understand where their ward begins and end.
According to the DC, all the candidates understood and went back convinced.
“A mistake happened from the State Election Commission side. The electoral book was misprinted with Lower Sichey including 5,208 voters, inclining on the 4 polling station of East DAC and one polling station of Lingding JHS. It was an error on our part, as two printed copies came out with the same mistake in varied degrees,” the DC says.
The DC’s office then told the candidates in the fray that the error will be rectified and the updated electoral book would be issued by March 15. The same was made available as a soft copy with a web link attached and sent to each of the candidates.
“Bimala Gurung came after that on March 19, asking us for the electoral book and seeing that there were only 3,384 voters as part of the correction, she failed to understand. Her supporters were agitated and only then her statement went out that 2,000 voters have gone missing. But, all the electoral roll in 3,384 are pretty much the same as before. It was an error of only the nomenclature, where instead of Lower Sichey it was written as Upper Sichey. They are all voters from three polling stations assigned to Lower Sichey from Sichey Secondary School and Lingding JHS. It doesn’t include those from East DAC, which appears to be where Bimala Gurung had voted in the General election, and that is the electoral roll presented to us by the State Election Commission,” the DC says.
Gurung, on her part, that the she was assured by the DC on three separate occasions on March 11 that the Lingding ward will fall in Lower Sichey.
“But he failed to mention that Sushanta Gram didn’t fall in the Lingding ward this time, that it was in Upper Sichey. If this was notified before, I would have contested from Upper Sichey, giving me home advantage. But now, changing the same at the last minute is utterly wrong. I stand at a precipice where my vote, that of my family and neighbours will not be included as Upper Sichey has already been declared as uncontested with Aruna Chettri being declared a winner, unanimously. Our votes are now a waste, all my supporters’ votes are wasted now,” rues Gurung.
Was the error deliberate?
She feels there is no time to recuperate from the error. “The error didn’t happen for any other ward, but here it was repeated on two occasions and now the error comes with a clarification that Sushanta Gram doesn’t even fall in Upper Sichey. It feels that the error was made deliberately to ruin my chance or to favour another candidate. It does seem deliberate, as it takes away my home advantage,” Gurung alleges.
The DC, however, contests the allegation. “It was not deliberate or to favour or ruin any candidate, it was a genuine error. And it was not a mistake made by the DAC but by the State election Commission. Even the candidates were taken into confidence, all of them, about the error. They all came, deliberated, including Bimala Gurung and it was made abundantly clear to them about the clerical error being only in the cover and the headline of electoral roll, not in the content of electoral roll. The cover showcased 5,208 voters, which was wrong and a corrected version was sent to all candidates.”
Some unanswered questions
Some of the questions that go unanswered in this confusion are about which electoral roll the returning officer rely on during scrutiny of candidates? The voters have been put into a ward where there will be no election; so why are polling booths being rearranged in Upper Sichey, if not as a cover up? The documents don’t mention dates or offer explanation; when was the rearrangement posted on the website? Can change in voter numbers be published after the final electoral roll has been notified?
Sikkim Municipal election are scheduled for March 31.