India cancels poll in southern area over ‘vote buying’

Tens of millions of Indians joined nationwide queues on April 11 to give their verdict on nationalist prime minister Narendra Modi as the world’s biggest election started amid deadly clashes. (AFP)
Updated 17 April 2019
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India cancels poll in southern area over ‘vote buying’

  • It is the first time a ballot has been canceled in a national election over attempted vote-buying, officials said
  • The decision comes as Indians vote in a mammoth national election being held over several phases

NEW DELHI: Indian election authorities have canceled voting in a southern region of the country after seizing more than 110 million rupees ($1.5 million) they believe was meant to influence the outcome, officials said Wednesday.
It is the first time a ballot has been canceled in a national election over attempted vote-buying, officials said.
The decision comes as Indians vote in a mammoth national election being held over several phases, the next of which begins Thursday.
But voters in the Vellore constituency in coastal Tamil Nadu state will not be going to the polls as scheduled after the Election Commission of India ruled there were fears of a “systematic design to influence voters.”
The ruling came after authorities seized more than 110 million rupees from a candidate in the run-up to the vote.
The commission said late Tuesday that the environment in Vellore was no longer conducive to “free and ethical” elections.
No fresh date has been announced for polling in the constituency.
Nearly 100 constituencies in 13 states go to the polls Thursday in the second round of the seven-phase election that began on April 11.
Almost 900 million voters are eligible to cast their votes to elect 543 members to the lower house of the parliament, with results expected on May 23.
Attempts to secure votes in return for cash, liquor, electronic gadgets and even goats have been reported across Tamil Nadu in the run-up to voting.
More than 1.3 billion rupees ($18.7 million) and one ton of gold worth 3 billion rupees have been seized in the state since the poll dates were announced on March 10.
Elsewhere in the country, polls have been delayed by five days in parts of the northeastern state of Tripura over security fears.
Polls will be held there on April 23 instead of Thursday.
And in the country’s east, Bangladeshi star actor Ferdous Ahmed has been forced to leave India after he was discovered campaigning for a candidate from the opposition Congress party, officials at the Bangladesh High Commission in Kolkata said.


Priyanka standoff ends with visit to victims’ families

In this handout photo taken and released by the All India Congress Committee (AICC) Communication Department on July 19, 2019, Indian politician Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (2L) meets Sonbhadra massacre victims at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) Trauma Centre in Varanasi. (AFP)
Updated 21 July 2019
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Priyanka standoff ends with visit to victims’ families

  • Priyanka Gandhi’s protest continued throughout Friday night while she demanded the right to visit the victims’ families

NEW DELHI: A political standoff over detained Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi ended on Saturday after she was allowed to meet relatives of 10 people killed in a caste clash in the eastern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
The Congress general secretary and sister of outgoing party president Rahul Gandhi was detained in Mirzapur on Friday while traveling to Sonbhadra to visit family members of 10 people shot and killed in a land dispute a day earlier.
The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Uttar Pradesh, led by Yogi Adityanath, detained Gandhi for violating the peace and stopped her from traveling further. The Congress leader then began a sit-in protest with her supporters at the Mirzapur guest house where she was held.
Her protest continued throughout Friday night while she demanded the right to visit the victims’ families. Television images showed Gandhi sitting in the dark after power and water supplies in the guest house were allegedly cut off by the local administration.
Her presence in the area, which also falls in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency in Varanasi, galvanized Congress workers who staged protests across the state.
Early on Saturday, relatives of some of the victims visited the guest house to meet the 47-year-old leader of the Gandhi-Nehru family, India’s pre-eminent political dynasty.
“My objective has been served as I have met the victims of the shooting,” said Gandhi before calling off her protest.
“The responsibility for the Sonbhadra massacre lies with the Yogi government,” she said.
Gandhi told her supporters, “I will be back,” before flying to New Delhi.
The BJP has accused the Congress leader of playing politics over the shootings.
“Congress has a history of playing politics over dead bodies,” said Swatantra Dev Singh, BJP president in Uttar Pradesh.
“The drama should stop. That is what I will say to Priyanka. All the accused have been arrested, and the officials responsible have been suspended,” he said.
The fatal shootings in Sonbhadra, 800 km southeast of New Delhi, drew mainstream media attention only when the Congress leader arrived in the state.
Observers say that the killing of 10 socially marginalized and landless tribes people by members of the dominant caste has highlighted the fragile caste situation in India’s most populous state.
The people of Gond tribe have been working the disputed land for generations. According to reports, the village head wanted tribes people to vacate the farm land. This led to conflict, and on Friday more than 200 armed men attacked the helpless villagers, killing 10 and injuring several others.
Gandhi, who entered politics only a few months before the general elections in May this year, seized the opportunity to connect with the people.
For the BJP, Uttar Pradesh is the jewel in the crown. The state gave the party 62 of its 303 parliamentary seats, and it is determined to maintain its political grip.
Political analysts say that Gandhi is determined to revive the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh by 2022 when the state goes to the polls.
“Priyanka Gandhi handled the Sonbhadra incident in a mature way, exposing the ham-fisted attitude of the Yogi government,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi-based analyst and author.
“She also managed to expose the BJP’s class bias  and how the ruling party is protecting the interests of  dominant caste in the state,” said Mukhopadhyay.
“This incident gives the party a chance to go back to the people immediately after the huge loss in the elections,” Mukhopadhyay told Arab News.
Lucknow-based political analyst Ram Dutt Tripathi said that Gandhi has “shown her courage as a political leader willing to fight administrative injustice.”
“Her detention was illegal and the Congress has high hopes that she can lead the revival of the party,” said Tripathi.
“It is unfortunate that the state Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has not visited relatives of the victims so far and is putting restrictions on political opponents who want to stand with them,” he said.