Police accused of voter suppression in an Uttar Pradesh constituency

Residents of Sikandrabad, in Uttar Pradesh, gather for a campaign rally, on 19 April, to be addressed by the Samajwadi Party president, Akhilesh Yadav. Sambhal, where the police allegedly attacked Muslim villages to disrupt voting, is one of the five Lok Sabha seats currently held by the SP. SUNIL GHOSH / HINDUSTAN TIMES
Elections 2024
08 May, 2024

The third phase of the 2024 general election in Uttar Pradesh was marred by allegations of police violence in the Sambhal Lok Sabha constituency, with reports of Muslims being subject to lathi charges and their identity cards being confiscated. The police has claimed it was acting to prevent voter fraud, but the opposition has described the incidents as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party using the state apparatus to influence the election in a seat that it is expected to lose.

This is not the first time that the police has been accused of voter suppression during the tenure of the Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh. In December 2022, a by-election for the Rampur assembly seat was marred by police violence, with Muslim voters reportedly being beaten and denied the right to vote. The turnout in that election was only 27.8 percent—abysmal even for a special election. The BJP won the seat, which the SP leader Azam Khan’s family had held for two decades, in a landslide. The police’s circle officer for Rampur at the time, the former Olympic wrestler Anuj Kumar Chaudhary, is currently the seniormost police officer in the Sambhal subdivision.

On the morning of 7 May, Abrar, a resident of Obri, a village in Uttar Pradesh’s Moradabad district, was lining up to cast his vote during the third phase of the 2024 general election. The village has over five thousand voters, almost all of whom are Muslim. There was a long queue at the school that housed all four of the village’s polling booths, and voting had just started. At around 8.30 am, he told me over the phone, more than twenty police vehicles arrived on the spot.

“As soon as the police arrived, they ordered voting to stop and took everyone’s identity cards,” Abrar said. “They shut down the booths without giving us any reason. The women began to panic, saying that they would not vote now.” The police, he said, began assaulting people at random, including women and the elderly—he knew of thirty people who had been injured—and brought a virtual stop to polling for several hours.