Guntur: Mangalagiri Assembly constituency in Guntur distirct is witnessing a high-stakes battle with TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu’s son and IT Minister Nara Lokesh is pitted against incumbent YSRCP MLA Alla Ramakrishna Reddy. The Assembly segment is being touted as a reference to know which way the wind is blowing in Andhra Pradesh. Despite the significance attached to the constituency, the lackadaisical approach of local election officials raises many eyebrows about the alleged conspiracy being hatched by TDP to ensure win at all costs lest Lokesh does poorly on the counting day.

The Assembly constituency has attracted lot of media attention from across the State and country. But sadly it has received more negative press than positive, all thanks to the conduct of TDP leaders who allegedly colluded with the poll officials to mar the free and fair elections.

Particularly, the conduct of the Returning Officer Masuma Begum, which drew lot of flak, is once again raising suspicion. At the end of the polling, she as a Returning Officer was supposed to collect the crucial Form 17C from the Presiding Officers. But it emerged that the Returning Officer in Mangalagiri had failed to collect the crucial document.

The particular piece of document is a record kept by presiding officers after the polling concludes. It has details pertaining to number of voters registered to vote at a particular polling booth and the number of voters who exercised their franchise, besides documenting the number of male and female voters. Presiding Officers prepare this document (two in number) in the presence of political party agents and gets them to sign as witnesses. While one of them is stored in the strong room, the other should be collected by the Returning Officer. This is done to eliminate any discrepancy on the counting day with regard to number of votes polled.

In spite of its importance to ensure transparency in the counting process, the failure on the part of Returning Officer to have a copy of the Form 17C is causing consternation among local political leaders. The issue came to light when the Presiding Officers came to Returning Officer’s office to collect their election duty payment. The latter had asked the former to submit the Form 17C before receiving their payments. Surprised, the Presiding Officers said they had already submitted the form to election officials on the very day. At a loss, the Returning Officer then asked them to sign on unfilled 17C Forms. To this many Presiding Officers replied how they would remember the exact details from the day of polling. But gave in and did sign the unfilled forms.

Candidates and political parties which are in the fray from the constituency are questioning the lax attitude of the poll officials and see it a larger plot and conspiracy hatched by TDP leadership to ensure the win of Nara Lokesh at all costs.

When asked about the issue, Tehasildhar Ramprasad said that they had only asked because they were unable to obtain the Form on the very day as the polling in Mangalagiri concluded late due to few technical glitches.

One fails to understand why due process was not followed in Mangalagiri. Questions are being asked if it was deliberate to benefit the ruling party or is it an inadvertent mistake on the part of the Returning Officer. It may be recalled that the same officer in question was criticised for allegedly favouring Nara Lokesh when issues surfaced in his nomination papers. Besides, she was also castigated over technical glitches in the constituency due to which polling in Mangalagiri continued well past the 8 PM.

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