In Madhya Pradesh, where polling took place on November 28, a three-part video has gone viral. The video, which was shot in one stretch but distributed as three clips due to its size, shows election commission officials in a hotel room with sets of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voters Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPATs). However, questions have been raised about the video’s credibility.
The video was taken on the night of November 27, a day before polling, in a hotel room of Rajmahal Hotel in Shujalpur constituency of Shajapur district of Madhya Pradesh. The officials on election commision duty who are seen in the video have been identified as sector officer Sohanlal Bajaj, micro-observer M Vinod Kumar, Dinesh Sugandhi and Rajesh Upadhyay—accompanied by a police guard named Mangilal and a driver called Mohammad Raees Mansoori.
The EC team came to conduct polling at Meharkhedi sector of Shujalpur constituency. According to information available with Newslaundry, the team had booked three rooms at the hotel—Rooms 103, 112 and 113. Bajaj, Kumar and Sughandi stayed in Room No 112, Mangilal and Mansoori stayed in Room No 103, and Upadhyay stayed in Room No 113.
Newslaundry spoke to the person who shot the video and then made it viral by sending it across social media. This man is a journalist named Manoj Purohit, who claims to be the bureau chief of Hindi daily Navbharat and a stringer for Aaj Tak in Shajapur district. It is significant to note that when Purohit shot the video, he was accompanied by someone called Asfaq Khan and Akeel Warsi, who is the district secretary of the Congress in Shajapur.
L-R: Ashfaq Khan, Manoj Purohit and Akeel Warsi
Purohit told Newslaundry, “On the night of November 27, I came to know from a source that some election commission officials have come to a hotel with two EVMs and two VVPATs. I directly entered their room, which was open. Two persons were consuming alcohol while one was inside the bathroom. I asked them whether they had permission to stay in the hotel with EVMs and VVPATs, to which they didn’t have any answer. I went to another room in which one of the officials was sleeping. When I asked him the same question, he told me they didn’t find any accommodation at Meharkhedi and came to the hotel to spent the night.”
The three-part video shows the EVMs and the VVPATs in the rooms. Purohit told Newslaundry the machines, which are generally sealed, were being “resealed” when he went to the rooms and the officers were “fiddling” with them—but this is not in the video.
Newslaundry contacted the Madhya Pradesh Chief Electoral Officer VL Kantarao to question him about the issue. He said, “Action has been taken against all four officials. They were not supposed to take the EVMs with them into the hotel. They were supposed to collect the EVMs in the morning. Because the place was far off, it was convenient for them to stay in the hotel on the way. They could have stayed in the hotel and then collected the EVMs in the morning.”
Kantarao says once they found out about the episode, they retrieved the EVMs within half an hour and changed the polling party. “We also got the EVMs examined by the engineers. The EVMs were not tampered with and their tags were not touched. It was just a misjudgement on the part of the sector officer to stay at the hotel with the EVMs.There was no tampering and there were no mala fide intentions.”
Newslaundry spoke to the hotel owner, Chavda, about the episode. He said, “These officials came to conduct elections at a nearby village known as Meharkhedi but as they couldn’t find any arrangement [to stay the night] over there, they came here. They met the manager on duty at the hotel and said they have come from Bhopal on some government duty. Our manager took a copy of their identity cards and allowed them the rooms.”
Chavda said after booking the rooms, the officials went out and returned at about 10.30 pm, and went up to their rooms. He said some journalists were also staying at the same hotel. “When the journalists came to know about the election commision officials staying in the hotel, they went to the rooms occupied by them. They asked the hotel staff to open the doors.” Chavda here is referring to Purohit, Khan and Warsi—the latter two are not journalists.
Chavda continues. “They questioned the officials as to whether they have permission to stay at the hotel.They also asked the hotel staff to show the entries of the election officials in the register, which the staff did. The journalists must have come to know that the hotel belongs to someone from the BJP and that the election officials are also staying here. So they questioned them about it and shot videos of the officials. After this incident, the officials packed up and left.”
Chavda said he only came to know about the incident the following day when he was informed of it by the hotel staff. Newslaundry asked him if there was any foul play behind the episode. Chavda reiterated that the officials had checked in only due to lack of accommodation at the polling village. “Our staff took a copy of their identification and made a proper entry into the register. Sir, it was election time. Some people belong to the BJP and some to the Congress.” He said the journalists assumed there was an “election angle” only because the hotel happened to belong to someone associated with the BJP.
Newslaundry spoke to EC official M Vinod Kumar, the micro-observer who stayed at the hotel. Kumar said, “I am a government official so I cannot talk much about this incident to the media. But I would like to say that the whole incident was politically motivated and done with a wrong intention. The video was shot in a way that misinterprets the whole situation. It’s a totally misconceived video. We entered our names in the register, we also mentioned in the register that we have come on election duty. Everything was very transparent and we gave all the details about us to the hotel.”
Kumar says the entire episode unrolled with “a selfish motive”. “This was not the way to manipulate things. We also have a family and this whole thing has defamed us.”