By T.J.S. George
The wonder that is Indian elections is losing some of its wonderness. Statistically, of course, it remains a marvel — 880 million voters (total US population is 328 million), 11 million election workers, 2 million voting machines, 2,300 registered parties. But the pride we had in the honourableness of the process has taken some knocks. The trust level has dipped. A feeling has come up — unthinkable before — that transgressions can happen.
Never before have there been so many violations of the election code. Calling for votes in the name of the Army elicited protests from former Army officers and civil servants, but the misuse continued with no action from the Election Commission. The nation actually saw the EC telling the Supreme Court that it was powerless. It is not. In the wake of the Godhra killings in 2002, the Gujarat Government wanted to hold a snap election. In Delhi as well as in Gujarat the BJP was in power. But the Chief Election Commissioner took a stand that elections would not be held in a hurry and that was that. An elected MLA in Maharashtra was disqualified by the EC because he had used Hindutva as a campaign issue. Under T.N. Seshan, the EC filmed election meetings to ensure that there were no violations in speeches.
Today’s EC has chosen to be powerless for its own reasons. Even after the Supreme Court shamed it into using at least some of its powers, the EC has let transgressions go unnoticed. The BJP’s Gujarat MLA Ramesh Katara was brazen in his violation of the rules. As reported by ANI, he told people to press the lotus button. “There should not be any room for errors as Modi Saab has installed cameras this time. Who voted for BJP, who for Congress, it can be seen. Aadhaar Card and all cards have your photo. If there are less votes from your booth, then we will come to know who did not cast vote and then you will not get work.”
This is more threatening in tone than Maneka Gandhi’s warning to Muslims that made the EC “punish” her. That the same kind of threats are being made by more than one leader indicates that this is part of a planned strategy. When a leading party functionary says that systems have been put in place to find out who voted for whom, where is the sanctity of elections? Where is the EC whose primary task is to ensure that sanctity?
Half the voting is over, yet the doubts and suspicions over contentious issues remain unabated. BJP publicity this time makes no reference to “development.” The emphasis is on ideas like the Citizenship Amendment Bill and the National Register of Citizens — ideas that have already caused upheavals in the North-East and apprehensions across the country. The slogan “a fitting response to terrorism” continues. Clearly the tactic is to play on the Hindutva version of patriotism. This took a perverse turn when the party gave its Bhopal ticket to Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, accused in the Malegaon blast case that linked saffron with terror. It is a defiant declaration by the Party President that policies will be drastically partisan if his party wins again.
It is clear now that three elements make this election different from all the elections of the past. Public loss of trust in voting machines is the first of these. The second element is the phenomenon of people defecting from other parties to the BJP. Some of them have already been rewarded with positions. Others are awaiting their turn. The BJP gains because it is the only party that is in a position to offer rewards that matter.
The third and most pernicious feature of this election is the number of tax raids conducted in the premises of Opposition leaders without the slightest feeling of guilt or disgrace on the part of the party in power. Many were raided and crores seized, the intention being to deprive the Opposition of ready cash, the oxygen of elections. The BJP’s stock of oxygen was hardly touched. Such cheating games were never played in Indian elections before. This election thus becomes the most deceitful till date. It can have an impact because this is the world’s most expensive election and the bulk of the expenses is in cash. The party with the most black money rules.
Conveniently, defective machines, opportunistic defections and partisan raids may influence the outcome of the elections. What will be the outcome of that outcome?