Booth capturing for cash

Intro : With only a few weeks left before the General Election 2024, Tehelka SIT uncovers the troubling reality of booth capturing and other electoral malpractices in J-K.

 “For the right price, I’m willing to do anything. I have orchestrated booth capturing in the past elections. The cost of such operations varies from booth to booth. It can range from one lakh to two lakh, or even escalate to five lakh and ten lakh, depending on the booth’s size. In Kashmir, when candidates realize they’re losing elections, they take recourse to a staged stone pelting. They employ youth to throw stones, followed by their supporters seizing control of the booths.”

Meet Aijaz Ahmad Dar – a Kashmiri activist and a seasoned agent who specializes in “poll management”, including booth capturing, promising candidates a guaranteed victory. Long before the Election Commission of India announced the dates for the 2024 General Election, Aijaz  arrived in Delhi from Kashmir and confessed on Tehelka’s camera to have used his muscle power to influence result in many elections in the past. 

The misuse of muscle power in election, it may be mentioned, was extensively discussed by the Chief Election Commissioner of India, Rajiv Kumar, during the announcement of the 2024 Lok Sabha election schedule. Rajiv Kumar had highlighted the “four Ms” that posed critical challenges leading up to this summer’s General Election: muscle power, money, misinformation, and model code of conduct (MCC) violations; while adding that the Election Commission is strategically devising plans to address each of these issues.  “Just as some states are more prone to using muscle, others are more susceptible to financial abuse,” Kumar had remarked.

The polling for five Lok Sabha seats in Jammu & Kashmir will take place in five phases, commencing on April 19 and concluding on May 20. Besides, the sole Lok Sabha seat in the adjoining Ladakh region will also go to poll on the same day. The Union Territory, which is poised to witness its first significant electoral battle since the abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A, has a history of electoral violence. In 2017, eight people lost their lives during clashes with security forces in the Srinagar Lok Sabha by-election, which, as per media reports, registered a dismal turnout of 7.14%. In 2019, the Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) vehemently protested against the alleged booth capturing by supporters of PDP leader Abdul Haq Khan in Devar Lolab during the polling. The JKPCC had urged the Chief Electoral Officer and District Election Officer, Kupwara, to take a stringent action against PDP workers and polling staff. Furthermore, in 2020, National Conference (NC) President Farooq Abdullah demanded re-polling in the Garoora District Development Council (DDC) constituency in J-K’s Bandipora, citing alleged instances of booth capturing and other irregularities. During the same year, at least six government employees were suspended in the Poonch district of Jammu region owing to similar allegations of booth capturing during the District Development Council (DDC) elections

Conducting elections in Jammu and Kashmir and the Naxal-hit region of Bastar in Chattisgarh is going to be among the key challenges facing the Election Commission of India while holding the General Election a couple of weeks from now. In light of the security challenges it might encounter, the ECI has decided against holding Assembly elections concurrently with the LS polls in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kadhmir, opting instead to schedule them shortly after the general election.

The Election Commission claims to have devised plans to crack down on the “4Ms”. With the announcement of the 2024 General Election schedule, Tehelka has also kicked off an investigative series on the “4Ms,” starting with this edition’s focus on muscle power.

Aijaz Ahmad Dar

As part of our investigation, we first met Aijaz Ahmad Dar, who traveled to Delhi from Kashmir to meet with our undercover reporter. Posing as a client, the reporter struck a deal with Aijaz to manage the poll campaign for a fictitious candidate supposedly contesting the elections in Jammu & Kashmir. Aijaz assured the reporter of success of our candidate. He also let out a trade secret: in Kashmir, if a candidate feels he is losing, he would instruct supporters to start hurling stones to distract security forces, allowing for potential booth capture.

Reporter- Kitna paisa kharch ho jayega usmein..?

Aijaz- Usmein to kafi paisa lagega aur Kashmir ki agar baat karen, wahan par ek masla ye bhi hota hai ki…aaram se agar kisi ko lagta hai ki yahan par hum nahi jeet wahan par patthar ..stone pelting karwa ke..

Reporter- Ji kya keh rahe hain aap..?

Aijaz- Wahan stone pelting karwa ke booth capturing.

Reporter- Stone pelting karwa ke..booth capturing..?  … Lekin mujhe guarantee do kaam ho jayega..

Aijaz- Haan ho jayega, aaram se ho jayega.

 [Aijaz’s revelations expose a dangerous underbelly of electoral tactics in J-K, where desperation drives candidates to seek outside help to influence the results in their favour, going to the extent of hiring dubious elements to capture booths to ensure their victory]

Now, Aijaz named a major political party of Kashmir, for whom he claimed to have organised booth capturing in 2014 poll. To finance the dubious act, the party had to dive deep into its pocket and spend in lakhs of rupees. However, according to him, Kashmir is no stranger to this phenomenon as it has been a feature of almost every election held in the state so far.

Reporter- Khul ke batao na.. baat karo..kis party ke liye…?

Aijaz-XXXX ke liye

Reporter- Stone pelting karwa ke ?

Aijaz- Haan ye sab to chalta hai wahan par ..aisa kuch nahi hai

Reporter- Ye kab karwaya aapne XXXXX k liye ?

Aijaz- 14 k baad..

Reporter- 2014 mein..?

Reporter- Kitna paisa laga usmein..?

Aijaz- Usmein bahut sara paisa laga, lakhon mein usmein paise lagtey hain ek-ek jagah ke..

Reporter- Deta kaun hai aapko, paisa mil jata hai..?

Aijaz- Haan..

[Aijaz’s stunning assertion of having worked for a major political party in Kashmir unveils the intricate web of electoral corruption. In the region, desperation compels candidates to resort to dubious means in their pursuit of victory.]

When asked how much they get paid for booth capturing, Aijaz told our undercover reporter that it depends on the situation. Discussing the risks involved, Aijaz said they negotiate an assurance from the concerned political party that it would secure their release from jail in case they are arrested following thebooth capturing attempt.  When asked about the responsibilities he can take in our poll management, Aijaz nonchalantly replied that for money, he would do anything.

Reporter- Lekin booth aap capture kawaogey..usmein aap par koi action nahi hoga.. police aapko arrest nahi karegi…?

Aijaz- Wo hai na ladke band ho jatey hain…wo paison k liye hotey hain, unko pata hota hai…

Reporter- Jo patthar phaiktey hain..?

Aijaz- Unko pata hai bilkul..

Reporter- Unko paisa mil jata hai..? Kitna-kitna mil jata hai..?

Aijaz- Wo bhi depend karta hai situation par…

Reporter- Phir bhi kam se kam kitna..?

Aijaz- Ek to unko chudwaney k paise, unko jo lagtey hain…guarantee leni padti hai wahan pe…chudwaney k liye paisa jitna lagega wo hum denge…

Reporter- Uski guarantee kaun leta hai..?

Aijaz- Uske liye bande rakhey hotey hain…

Reporter- Jo politician hain jinke liye wo booth capturing kar rahe hain.. wo hi guarantee letey hain…?

Aijaz- Haan

Reporter- Aap zimmedari kis cheez ki le saktey hain, ye bataiye..?

Aijaz- Dekhiye bhai mein aapko clear bolta hoon..jahan par paise honge wahan par mere ko kuch bhi bolo mein karunga…

[After delving into the candid revelations of Aijaz, it’s evident that electoral tactics in Kashmir are entangled in a complex web of desperation and dubious methods. Aijaz’s casual air, as he expressed his willingness to take on any task in exchange for financial compensation, reflects his confidence in navigating the system.]

Then, we inquired of Aijaz how he planned to execute the plan, given that stone-pelting incidents were no longer being reported from the valley. In response to it, Aijaz said that it was a mistaken belief that stone-throwing incidents had ceased. He explained that the decrease in such incidents was due to a drying up of funds for orchestrating such incidents. He further asserted that, with the right amount of money, one could still incite crowds to pelt stones in Kashmir. He claimed to know boys who were willing to engage in stone-throwing upon request.

Reporter- Lekin ab stone pelting wagera to band ho gayi sab Kashmir mein…?

Aijaz- Band ho gayi..hahaha!..phir se karani hai to bol dijiye…

Reporter- Hain.?

Aijaz- Ismein kya.. paise lagtey hai…paise de do phir start..paise aaney band ho gaye..

Reporter- Ladke bhi to band hain phekney waley..

Aijaz- Kahan band hai…kisne kaha band hain..?

 [In the intricate web of Kashmir’s unrest, Aijaz’s revelation sheds light on the covert transactions that continue to fuel stone-throwing incidents. Money, it seems, remains the silent player behind the scenes.]

Aijaz informed our reporter about boys who participate in stone-throwing for booth capturing. According to him, these boys typically spend nine months in jail followed by three months of freedom. During those three months, however, they manage to earn enough to sustain themselves for the entire year. Stone-pelting seems to be their regular source of income – if they don’t get jailed, they don’t earn money.

Aijaz- Ladke to hain saath mein unko to aadat hi hai.. saal mein wo 9 mahiney to jail mein rahtey, 3 mahine bahar..wo 3 mahiney kaam karengey ek saal ke barabar…

Reporter- Kis cheez se kamatey hain wo.?.

Aijaz- Paisey leker stone pelting wagera…saal bhar betho 3 mahine to kaam hai na unka…unka roz ka hai…agar wo jail nahi jayengey to paise kahan se aayengey…?

Reporter- Jail se paise kaise aatey hain…?

Aijaz- Pehle se hi lekar rakhtey hain unko pata hai 6 months k liye jana hai ya 9 months.. ek saal k liye jana hai…2 saal ka kama liya chaley gaye jail…araam se..

[Aijaz’s revelations underscore the dire economic circumstances that drive individuals to engage in illegal activities like stone throwing for financial gain. Stone pelting becomes a perverse path to survival for these boys.]

When asked how much he had charged for booth capturing in the past, he said it depended on the size of the booth in question, besides other factors. He mentioned that the amount varied from Rs 1 to 2 lakh or Rs 5 to 10 lakh per booth. Regarding how many booths he could capture for us in the elections, Aijaz said that he could handle the entire South Kashmir, as he is an expert in the region and his ‘NGO’ also has a stronghold there.

Reporter- Kitna kharcha aa jayega ek booth ka…?

Aijaz- Ye ab dekhna padega booth kaisa hoga..

Reporter- Abhi tak jo aapne kiya hai usmein kitna kharcha aaya hai…?

Aijaz- 1-1 lakh…2-2 lakh

Reporter- Ek booth ka?

Aijaz- Haan..kahin kahin 5 lakh, 10 lakh bhi hoga..depend karta hai booth kitna bada hai…

Reporter- Accha kitne booth assembly elections mein aap capture karwa saktey hain hamare liye..?

Aijaz- Mein south ki baat karun..?

Reporter- South Kashmir ?

Aijaz- Ji..jahan jahan aap target dengey wahan kar denge

Reporter- Number of booth bataiye..?

Aijaz- Mujhe lagta hai…wahan koi bhi aisa booth nahi hoga jahan par hamara control na ho…

Reporter- South Kashmir ke aap expert hain..?

Aijaz- Haan

Reporter- Booth capture ho jayenge sahi se.?.

Aijaz- Hamare NGO  hain na wahan se ladke aatey hain…

Reporter- NGO se matlab samjha nahi ?

Aijaz- Matlab jo humse jude hain jinko hum help detey hain..kafi mehnat lagti hai booth capture karne mein

Reporter- Wo aapki NGO se jude hain..?

Aijaz- Haan..

[In a chilling portrayal of electoral manipulation, Aijaz’s disclosures highlight the insidious nexus between power, money, and exploitation in the democratic process. Aijaz’s booth-capturing expertise emerges as a formidable force. It comes out during the conversation that with a stronghold in south Kashmir, his NGO wields influence that could sway the poll result.]

Aijaz now discloses the method of booth capturing. According to him, when a candidate realizes that he is losing at a particular booth, he orders his supporters to start throwing stones to create unruly scene. As the stone pelting begins, the security deployed at the booth moves to control the situation. It is at this moment that the booths are captured.

Reporter- Kis cheez par kharcha aata hai ye..?

Aijaz- Wahan par pehle aata hai ki..voter kitne hain..maan lo 100 voter hain…ab ek andaza hota hai 10 mein se hamarey kitne voters hain…agar ismein hame lage ke hamarey kam voters hain..kya hum unko kharid saktey hain phir..agar kharid nahi paaye to wahan par hum kya kare..taki wo voter wahan par na ja paaye..

Reporter- Uske liye kya kartey hain aap ?

Aijaz- Uske liye start hoti hai stone pelting….stone pelting..2-3 ladke hire kiye..unpar kharcha aata hai..lakh 1.5 lakh…2 lakh…

Reporter- 2-3 ladkon par ?

Aijaz- Haan..zyada bhi aa jata hai..maan lo koi ladka 1 lakh lega.. aur bolega halat kharab ho jayenge ..mein jail jaunga, doosra mujhe chudhana hai…kam se kam 6 mahine to unke lagne hain ander…aur un 6 mahino k liye mujhko 1 lakh..1.5 lakh mujhe milna chahiye..phir wo bhi ho jata hai..sham ko voting band.. wo bhi saamne aa jata hai..

 [Aijaz’s revelation unveils a disturbing strategy where chaos becomes a tool for capturing booths. He sheds light on a hidden mechanism, and exposes the lengths some will go to undermine democracy]

According to Aijaz, while booth capturing is his forte, he can also persuade people to switch loyalties through inducements. He mentioned his ability to organize election campaigns and buy votes by offering money to voters. However, he cautioned that all these actions come with significant expenses for the parties involved.

Reporter- To aapka jo kaam hai..jisme aap strong ho wo hai booth capturing..?

Aijaz- Booth capturing…logon ko kharidna …wo bhi hum kar saktey hain…aaram se..kar chukey hain hum…

Reporter- Ab aap mujhe jaldi se ye bata dijiye..aap election mein kya kya kartey hain aur kya kya kar saktey hain..?

Aijaz- Election main aap campaigining karwa saktey hain..logon ko judwa saktey ko idhar udhar karwa saktey hain..

Reporter- Vote ko idhar udhar kaise karwaogey..?

Aijaz- Paise dekar logon ko, paise ya koi lalach, ya whatever jo need ho wo sab karkey..

Reporter- Kitna paisa kharch ho jayega usmein..?

Aijaz- Usmein to kafi paisa lagega.

Aijaz- Agar kahin pe jab bhi karna padega strike wagera….koi apna hota hai neta band ho jata hai..ya action liya jata hai tab…usko chudwaney k liye protest wo bhi karwa saktey hain…

 Apart from booth capturing in elections, Aijaz told us that he can help in organising a protest for any political leader if he or she get arrested by the security forces.

[Aijaz’s boast about his expertise in booth capturing and influencing loyalties through inducements highlights his ability to orchestrate campaigns and buy votes, albeit for a significant fee.]

Aijaz now confessed that he has paid Rs 1,000 to 2,000 to voters to secure their votes in favor of the  candidate he was working for. He also mentioned that in Kashmir, people are not enticed with liquor but with other means such as drugs like brown sugar etc.

Reporter- Liquor wagera, paise baatna?

Aijaz- Haan paise to baantey hain..

Reporter- Kitna- kitna..?

Aijaz- 1000 hazar… 2-2 hazar diye hain..

Reporter- Sharab?

Aijaz- Sharab nahi chalti wahan…

Reporter- Wahan drugs wagera chalti hain kya ?

Aijaz- Chalti hain…bahut..brown sugar hai wahan par..

Reporter- Kashmir mein..?

Aijaz- Haan bahut..

[Aijaz’s revelations shed light on the pervasive influence of monetary inducements and alternative enticements in electoral practices.]

When asked which political party he is associated with, Aijaz replied that he is affiliated with parties that pay him money. He stated that he does not align himself with any particular party based on its ideology; rather, the primary factor for him is money. So, Aijaz’ loyalty lies with the highest bidder, a reminder that ideology can sometimes take a backseat in the political game.

Reporter- Abhi aap kiske saath jude ho..?

Aijaz- Har kisi ke saath juda hoon..sach mein..

Reporter- Matlab jo paisa de de uske saath..?

Aijaz- Haan hamara kya hai…?

[The dialogue unravels the intricate dynamics of electoral tactics, highlighting the pervasive influence of monetary incentives over ideological allegiance.]

“In sum, our investigation has uncovered the troubling reality of booth capturing, a blatant form of electoral fraud that undermines the essence of democracy. This unethical practice, also known as booth looting, involves the manipulation of polling booths by party loyalists or hired criminals to ensure the victory of a specific candidate. Not only does it disenfranchise legitimate voters, but it also constitutes a serious form of voter suppression. As the Election Commission issues warnings of the ‘4Ms’ ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, our exposé has focused on the first ‘M’: the muscle power. It is crucial that robust measures be taken to combat such abuses of power and safeguard the integrity of our democratic process.

By addressing the root causes of booth capturing and implementing stringent regulations, we can foster a fair and transparent electoral environment. Only through collective efforts can we uphold the principles of democracy and ensure that every vote counts in shaping the future of our nation.