Ministers scramble for postal ballots

HYDERABAD (TIP): With several Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies in both regions expected to see a photo finish, candidates of all parties are scrambling to increase their tally by buying the 4.75 lakh postal ballots issued by the Election Commission to government staff performing poll duty. Apart from defence personnel, securitymen on poll duty, teachers, drivers and all those enlisted for election work are eligible to vote through postal ballots.

“For the first phase of election in Telangana, we drafted 1.80 lakh personnel and for the second phase of the polls scheduled to be held in the Seemandhra region on May 7, nearly 2.95 lakh government employees have been roped in for poll duties. For all these people, we have issued 4.75 lakh ballot papers,” chief electoral officer Bhanwarlal said. Employees who have been given postal ballots can cast their vote till 7 am on May 16, the day when the votes would be counted and the results declared.

When the votes polled in the EVMs are counted, the postal ballots would be added to the candidate’s tally. “In several key constituencies, the victory margins could be in hundreds. Therefore, every postal ballot can make a difference,” said a political analyst. Although election officials have warned the employees that abusing postal ballots would cost them their jobs, agents of main political parties are wooing them with dinners, lunches, gifts, promise of transfer and cash to secure the postal ballot paper, which is a guaranteed vote.

All the candidates who apprehend that they may lose the election narrowly are on the buying spree of postal ballots from the government employees. Sources said the frenzy for pocketing the postal ballots is the most in Seemandhra, where the big two chief ministerial contenders, YSR Congress chief Jaganmohan Reddy and Telugu Desam Party president N Chandrababu Naidu are in the fray. But there is a huge demand in Telangana as well, where some candidates had lost by as little as 170 votes in the last elections.

Thanks to multi-cornered contests in Telangana this time, the margin could drop further, the candidates fear. “Each postal ballot is fetching the employee between Rs 2,000 and Rs 5,000,” a revenue official on poll duty said. Unlike the regular vote, where there is no guarantee of a voter keeping his promise after accepting bribes, the postal ballot is a sure shot vote.

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Employees being lured with transfer bait
“Once a voter agrees to vote for a certain consideration, he marks the ballot in my presence and hands it over to me. We then deposit it in the drop-boxes kept in the office of each returning officer or mail it directly to the EC,” said an agent of a candidate in Hyderabad. Human rights activist Pulla Rao has charged that the government employees on poll duty in Tadepalligudem division of West Godavari were handed over the postal ballots on April 25 and 26 and that candidates organized dinner for them and collected the ballots by paying the staff huge money.

“I demand that these postal ballots be cancelled and fresh ones issued by the Election Commission,” he said. Rao said he had brought this to the notice of chief election commissioner V S Sampath and sought the cancellation of the ballots. “Poll observers who are supposed to keep watch on public events like dinners and meetings of political parties were nowhere to be seen. So, I had to ring up the chief election commissioner,” he said. Responding to the complaint that postal ballots are being sold, West Godavari collector Siddharth Jain told the media that he was probing the charge and that action would be taken if it was true.

In Anantapur, Chittoor, Nellore, East and West Godavari and the north coastal districts, the price tag for each postal ballot is between Rs 2,000 and Rs 2,500. A former minister contesting from an Assembly constituency in Anantapur district is allegedly offering as much as Rs 5,000 per postal ballot. “Every vote counts. In the previous elections, some candidates lost by less than 150 votes,” said a candidate from Anantapur district. But rewards in kind are playing a role equally important as that of cash.

“Many voters with postal ballots are being lured with the promise of transfer to the places of their choice,” said one teacher, who confessed that he gave away his postal ballot to a candidate on the promise of getting a transfer to the city of his choice. With the postal ballots being valid for another two weeks, the scramble for these precious and guaranteed votes is only expected to increase in the coming days.

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