The individual vote may be a secret, but the preferences of a village is well-known to candidate.
Within counting centres, political agents, tabulating votes in each round and booth, were made aware of which booth voted for whom.
Soon after, winners were seen thanking voters settled in a particular area, while the unsuccessful candidates vented their ire against those in booths which did not vote for them.
H.K. Kumaraswamy, JD(S) candidate in Sakleshpur, was trailing in the initial rounds of counting but secured a lead in the latter rounds. “People of Kattaya Hobli have stood by me, I am thankful to them,” he declared before the media soon after his victory was clear.
Congress candidate in Hassan, H.K. Mahesh, in a press conference after the counting was over, said he lost the battle because his own community did not vote him. “I got votes in booths located in areas dominated by minorities,” he said.
The tactic is not uncommon. In Byatarayanapura, where Congress’ Krishna Byre Gowda’s re-election went down to the wire, workers knew that salvation would come in the last few booths to be counted, where they were traditionally strong. In Bagepalli, Chelur Hobli ensured Congress’ S.N. Subba Reddy won over CPI(M)’s G.V. Srirama Reddy.
In some villages, local leaders, keeping the booth-wise details, have already completed the task of identifying people who voted against their party candidates.
Even local newspapers have published booth-wise figures and senior politicians keep that data as the basis for strategies in the coming elections. The consequence, fear residents, is that the winning candidate will ignore development here, prefering to support areas where the MLA has received votes.
For instance, after the fall of the short-lived BJP government, JD(S) supporters went on a celebratory rally around Hassan and even picked fights with residents of areas where the BJP candidate had got more votes.
In Hassan’s Suranahalli village in Holenarasipur taluk, the Congress support here may have lead to stalling of development activities. A resident said: “In the past few elections, the JD(S) candidate has won and we felt they ignore development works in the village. The fertile land of the village was notified for a government building despite our protests”.
Shivaram Gopalakrishna Gaonkar, a resident of Ankola in Uttara Kannada district, has filed a Public Interest Litigation in Karnataka High Court seeking a direction to stop publishing booth-wise votes polled.
In the days of the ballot box, votes from 15 booths would be jumbled before counting, ensuring that political parties were kept in the dark about preferences of specific areas. Even in 2008, the Election Commission had proposed a totaliser which allows for counting of 14 booths at once. However, recently the Centre informed the Supreme Court, which is hearing a petition about this, that all political parties had opposed it.
“The voters’ choice should remain a secret. The disclosure of booth-wise details help the party workers crack this secret,” said A.R. Venkatesh, a voter, in Hassan constituency.