New Delhi/Mumbai/Lucknow/Kolkata: Allegations of EVM malfunctioning returned to haunt the Election Commission as four Lok Sabha seats and nine Assembly constituencies went for bypolls on Monday across 10 states with moderate-to-heavy voting amid prestige at stake for the BJP as well as opposition parties ahead of the 2019 General Elections.
The EC said reports of 'large-scale' failure of EVMs were "exaggerated projection of reality" even as complaints mounted about problems with electronic voting machines including in Uttar Pradesh's Kairana, where BJP is trying to retain the Lok Sabha seat against a united Opposition in a communally-charged election.
Sources in the poll panel, which has in the past also faced allegations about EVMs, blamed inept handling of the paper-trail machines for votes by the ground staff, especially when the temperature is high, for malfunctioning in some areas.
Counting for all seats will take place on May 31.
The EVM-related complaints also came from UP's Noorpur assembly seat, which has become another high-stakes election in the state after a shock defeat suffered by the BJP during the earlier by-elections for Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats -- the first vacated by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Polling for Palghar and Bhandara-Gondia LS seats in Maharashtra -- the BJP is fighting its estranged ally Shiv Sena at one is pitted against Congress-supported NCP in the another -- was also marred by instances of alleged malfunctioning of EVMs and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPATs).
Congress' Vishwajeet Kadam got elected unopposed from Palus Kadegaon assembly seat in Maharashtra after all parties including BJP opted out from the contest. The bypoll was necessitated because of the death of sitting Congress MLA and former minister Patangrao Kadam, Vishwajeet's father.
In Punjab, nearly 73 per cent voting was recorded for the Shahkot in a largely peaceful bypoll.
Voting was peaceful in the eastern and north-eastern states as well with 70 per cent votes being cast in the lone Parliamentary seat in Nagaland, while the polling was 53-90.42 per cent in five assembly seats across four other states -- Ampati in Meghalaya, Gomia and Silli in Jharkhand, Maheshtala in West Bengal and Jokikhat in Bihar.
In South, tight security and a changed political equation post Congress-JD(S) alliance marked voting for the Rajarajeshwarinagar bypoll in the state. The election for the seat was deferred earlier due to seizure of 9,564 Election Photo Identity Cards (EPIC) from an apartment.
In Kerala, people braved heavy rains to vote for Chengannur assembly bypoll, where a fierce contest was expected between the three fronts of the Left, the BJP and the Congress.
About 74.60 per cent voting was recorded in the bypoll, necessitated due to death of sitting MLA K K Ramachandran Nair of CPI(M). Barring reports of technical problems with electronic voting machines in some booths, the polling was reported to be "incident-free".
In Maharashtra, technical glitches prompted Shiv Sena and NCP to question EVMs, while similar was the case for parties in UP.
Even when the voting was underway, opposition parties and the ruling BJP moved the EC in the national capital claiming that "hundreds" of EVMs and paper trail machines deployed for Kairana and Noorpur bypolls developed snags and were not replaced for hours.
The EC sources said that failure on part of the ground staff led to heating of the machines. They alleged that officials who skipped training programmes and "spent time on their phones during training" placed the machines at places where 'heat sensitive' nature of the device created problems.
Kairana is being seen as a popularity test for the ruling BJP in the electorally crucial state of UP. The bypoll was necessitated by the death of BJP MP Hukum Singh and his daughter Mriganka is the party's candidate - pitted against Rashtriya Lok Dal's Tabassum Hasan supported by the Congress, SP and BSP.
The Noorpur bypoll was necessitated by death of sitting BJP MLA Lokendra Singh Chauhan. The BJP has fielded his wife Avani Singh, while SP has given ticket to Naeemul Hasan.
The Shahkot bypoll in Punjab was necessitated by demise of Akali MLA Ajit Singh Kohar. His son Naib Singh Kohar is the Akali candidate, while Congress has fielded Hardev Singh Laddi and AAP candidate is Rattan Singh Kakkar Kalan.
The Nagaland LS bypoll was necessitated as Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio resigned days before the assembly polls.
Meghalaya's Ampati by-election, where polling was the highest at 90.42 per cent, was necessitated as the state's Leader of Opposition Mukul Sangma resigned from the seat after winning from Songsak seat as well. His daughter Miani D Shira is in a triangular contest there.
In Jharkhand, voting in Gomia was 62.61 per cent and 75.5 per cent in Silli, where polling ended at 3 pm as they fall in LWE area. These bypolls are happening following the conviction of their respective JMM MLAs, Yogendra Mahto and Amit Mahto.
In West Bengal, Maheshtala bypoll was held following death of TMC MLA Kasturi Das. The party has fielded her husband Dulal Das, while BJP has fielded Sujit Ghosh, a former CBI joint director. The Left candidate Prabhat Chowdhury is backed by Congress.
The Jokikhat bypoll was held after resignation of sitting MLA Sarfaraz Alam and is being viewed as a test of strength between Nitish Kumar's JD(U) and Lalu Prasad's RJD.