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Can the election on April 16 in the Kandhmals ever be free and fair?

Citizens Protest Memorandum to India’s Election Commission

by Fr. Cedric Prakash sj, Hemanto Naik, Sushanto Mishra, Teesta Setalvad, 10 April 2009

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Please Join Protest Against Hate Fear and Intimidation in Kandhmals

Write to the Election Commission, New Delhi
- Fax: 011-23739933

April 10, 2009

To,

Shri Navin Chawla
- Chief Election Commissioner
- New Delhi

- Shri Yakub Qureishi
- Election Commissioner,
- New Delhi

Cc: Shri Alok Shukla,
- Deputy Election Commissioner,
- New Delhi

Cc: Shri Jaiprakash,
- Deputy Election Commissioner,
- New Delhi

Dear Sir,

This is to bring to you kind attention the issue of an atmosphere of utmost fear and intimidation and trepidation at present that continues in the Kandhmals district of Orissa.

This atmosphere has gotten worse and more acute with the upcoming elections and the fielding of two candidates, Mr Ashok Sahu from the BJP who has been responsible for inflammatory speeches after the killing of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati in August 2008. According to a detailed conversation that I had with the District Magistrate Shri Krishna Kumar (09437109847) the administration has registered an FIR against him yesterday (April 9, 2009) under sections 153 a of the Indian Penal Code read with 123a of the Representation of People’s Act for allegedly blaming local poor tribal Christians for the killing of the Swami in a bid to inflame passions and let loose violence against the people. This speech is clearly inflammatory and requires stern and firm action.

But, no further action has been initiated against him. Unlike in Bihar he has not been arrested or detained and it is extremely likely that again and again until the elections he will continue to foment trouble. How can we call this a free and fair election then, Sir?

Before this four show cause notices had been issued to the same candidate for other reasons according to the DM. What we cannot understand is why the police are not arresting him like has been done in other cases of blatant hate speech violations in other states?

Secondly, I have received personally directly CONFIRMED reports from Shri SATYANATHA PRADHAN, the SARPANCH of the Sugurbadi Panchayat, village LENGUMAHA, which is five kilometres from RAIKIA that Shri Sahu delivered a horrendous and equally vile speech on March 19, 2009. In this speech he is alleged to have said, “Hindus will not leave the Christians alone for the killing of the Swami. But we will kill them not now but after the elections…” Then he is supposed to have asked the 7,000 strong crowd, “Who will help us in this?” And several hundreds enthusiastic hands went up. I received this information only yesterday since the man was in great fear and finally summoned up the courage to speak.

We are trying through local sources to get a copy of this controversial speech but we urge Sir that the CEC takes this issue up of an urgent footing and does not leave it entirely to the Orissa state administration.

Sir, this leads us to the second issue at hand that we had brought up with the EC on March 25, 2009. The issue of whether all the affected victim survivors of Kandhmals will be allowed a free and fair chance to vote. We enclose below a copy of our earlier representation. Our contention two weeks later remains the same.

Following our meetings in Delhi our representatives have met Shri Sanjay Meena and Alaka Panda (SEC Orissa), got a copy of the electoral roles and explained to the administration that by their own reckoning 25,000 persons in the camps in October 2008 and only 3,200 now (January 2009) remaining, meant that about 22,000 persons ought to have been back in the villages living a normal life. However the district administration appears reluctant to provide its own lists and figures, with name and village of the people from the camps who have returned to the villages (according to them). This would negate our claim that these persons are in fact not in their villages presently, belying the claim of normalcy. Why is the district administration not providing these figures, if they do immediately it will become clear who’s contention is more accurate.

Today the DM mentioned that a helpline and 25 vehicles with full security have been arranged to ensure the safety of the victims from the camps to vote. Our survey of the camps shows us that in the camps too there are residents from different areas who would need to be taken to far-flung booths and therefore it is highly unlikely that the state administration will ensure that even these persons will vote. The post election polling of the Kandhmals district will in our view not reflect a free and fair election.

Sir, we urge you to treat this matter with urgency and do consider the request for a postponement (not canvellation) of elections in one Parliamentary Constituency and five assembly segments that come under this district.

For the record, Sir, the candidate of the BJP from Kandhmals for the assembly elections from the G. Udayagiri seat, Manoj Pradhan, has over 12 cases registered against him for attempts to kill, murder, arousing communal passions, rioting, arson, spreading communal hatred — have been lodged against him. He is also campaigning furiously and his campaign likely to be a logical conclusion of the politics that led to his involvement in 12 FIRs being registered against him. Should he not be monitored closely, his conduct and speeches? Or else his campaign is likely to fuel greater and greater division in the district.

Sir we urge you to look into these issues with immediate effect.

Yours Sincerely,

Keshumati Prashan Kui Dina Forum for Peace and Democracy
- Hemanto Naik
- Sushanto Mishra

Teesta Setalvad
- Secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace

Fr Cedric Prakash
- Prashant
- Ahmedabad