Booth capturing is a type of electoral fraud found in India, in which party loyalists "capture" a polling booth and vote in place of legitimate voters to ensure that their candidate wins. Though it is a kind of voter suppression, unlike other forms of voting fraud, booth-capturing is a malpractice witnessed mainly in India and the least subtle of all.
Almost every State in the country has witnessed some booths being captured either by the ruling or opposition parties, though it is disproportionately widespread in states in North India like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The word came into prominent use in the media during the late 1970s and 1980s when the number of parties and candidates multiplied. This resulted in some Parties using underhand methods including booth capturing, especially in the rural hinterland of India.
Booth capturing became such an organised part of the Indian election process, that certain gangs organised themselves to stuff ballot boxes, others to intimidate the public and polling officers while the police were either bribed or intimidated themselves, or in some cases in West Bengal, "ordered" to move away from the site of the crime. The modus operandi of such booth capturing operations was facilitated by poor communication, long distances, and inadequate policing. By the 1990s it had become a common and unsightly occurrence wherever elections were held. Sometimes two rival party thugs would descend on the same polling station, resulting in violent clashes with injuries and even deaths on both sides.
West Bengal has a particularly ugly history of booth capturing, starting with 1972 when the ruling Congress Party captured booths at almost all the Constituencies while Central officers were ordered to stuff the ballots or intimidate voters. In 1982, 1987 and 1991, the ruling Left Front coalition used severe violence, intimidation and booth capturimg against the opposition parties. Booth capturing continues in West Bengal in the 21st century, in the 2008 Panchayat and 2009 Lok Sabha elections, opposition parties Trinamool Congress and Indian National Congress also indulged in large-scale booth-capturing after a gap of almost 32 years.
In 1989 the Representation of the People Act, 1951 was modified to include booth capturing as an offence punishable by law and countermanding or adjourning any poll that was booth captured. The development of the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) was also intended to make it harder for booth capturers to stuff the ballot boxes with their votes by enabling a five-minute delay between each vote entered as against hundreds of votes in the same time using ballot papers (stamped by a group of 3–4). The EVMs also possess a "close" button which can be used by the polling officer to deactivate the machines. Despite this, booth capturing continues to happen, albeit at a much reduced rate and many candidates who lose elections in India regularly complain that their opponents indulged in booth capturing to win.
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