Opposition’s Whipping Boys – The Election Commission & EVMs

What will 23 May 2019 unfold for the nation? If exit polls are to be believed then there is no doubt that Mr Narendra Modi and NDA will retain power for a second term without any hiccups. Is the opposition already having sleepless nights based on these predictions? If exit polls ring true then many current stalwarts in the opposition would have no choice but to bid adieu to active politics and go into hibernation as any resurgence in 2021 will only be a dream for them. Possibly Lutyens zone in New Delhi will see an exodus of some who had made it their perennial home – albeit at government expense. Anti Modi brigade regulars seen on national television every evening will look for places to hide their faces that may be covered with faeces by afternoon of 23 May 19. Of course, exit polls can only be pointers of what may happen. Given Indian voters’ track record they may go awry by miles and that is what the opposition would be hoping happens.

If opposition gains an upper hand then they would all be in huddles to solve the riddle of how and who will lead and form the government. There will be no cribs or faults to be found with Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) or actions of Election Commission (EC). Congress party without a doubt will have maximum number of Members of Parliament (MP) but the party has already indicated in a press conference that they will abide by the decision of any alliance (Gath Bandhan) that may be formed after the results. With so many contenders for the position of Prime Minister, they must have seen the writing on the wall and realised that their own candidate Rahul had very little chance of being accepted by any alliance. The only way Rahul could stake acclaim is if Congress party returns with over 100 seats and that does seem to be a very tall ask. In the final analysis what will guide the alliance is the need to keep Mr Modi away and once in power to get even with Mr Modi. For Congress party, the need to keep Mr Modi away is even more paramount because if he comes to power again, then some in the first family will certainly become familiar with the insides of Tihar jail.

Election Commission of India

If the results mirror exit polls and NDA comes to power again, the opposition while running helter-skelter will also shout themselves hoarse by blaming the EVMs and EC for their poor show. Since there will be no alliances to be formed, no mutual consultations to hold, they will have all the time in the world to cry about rigging of EVMs and partiality by EC. The humble voting machine, whose role is limited to aiding and speeding up the voting process will come under attack from all quarters of the opposition. They would like the nation to believe that each of the over one million EVMs had a direct connect with Mr Modi or Mr Shah of BJP so as to do their bidding irrespective of which button was pressed by the voter. If any one reminded these unworthies that EVMs are practically tamper proof, standalone machines that are distributed randomly and are not net worked or connected to the internet, they will refuse to see any reason. For opposition the axiomatic truth is simply this – if they win then EVMs are fine and trustworthy but if they lose then EVMs have to be tampered to register votes only in favour of BJP. It does not matter that it was a Congress government at the centre that introduced EVMs in Kerala in 1982 in fifty booths. On a major scale EVMs were first used in 1998 in three state elections and then in 1999 EVMs were used for general elections in the state of Goa. Increased use of EVMs came about with consent of all political parties over a couple of decades. If tampering of EVMs is a distinct and easy possibility, then the logical question that should be asked is whether Congress and its allies were winning elections for decades by rigging and tampering the EVMs?

The second culprit in the eyes of the opposition will be EC if NDA wins once again. From Mamata to Rahul and others in between, most opposition leaders harbour grudges against the current EC as they feel it acts on the orders of Mr Modi and Mr Shah. Organisations like EC have been around since 1950 to oversee elections in the country. It is an acknowledged fact that they have done a very commendable job in ensuring timely, fair and nearly violence free elections each and every time. So, assuming that the current EC is an exception or that the character of EC has suddenly undergone a major change is difficult to digest unless one assumes that EC was always pliable and could be moulded to suit the party in power. Raising questions on EC’s functioning amounts to questioning the very foundations of democracy in India. So, if the foundations are undemocratic or weak then all governments that have ruled this nation since independence are at fault and answerable for this dubious state of EC. Any assumption that only current EC is inefficient and biased can only be seen as a charge by poor losers. On one hand there is the more than commendable performance of EC in conducting fair and efficient polls for so many decades. On the other we have more than dubious record of our politicians and their parties who are seeped with criminals, criminality and selfish motives to win elections at any cost in any manner. The choice of whom to believe and who not to is so obvious – unless you are a losing politician. It is best to rest the case here.

Conducting national elections in a nation like India is more than a herculean task. There are bound to be a few unsavoury incidences where a few EVMs may not work properly or an odd decision of EC may appear to be questionable or partial to a few. But given the size of the electorate and complexity of holding elections in a country of the size of India, these are at the best exceptions that are unlikely to have any impact on the overall result. So, if on 23 May 19 we do have a scenario where opposition parties use EC or EVMs as whipping boys, it should not surprise anyone and should not be taken seriously. Afterall in a democracy a loser has the right to vent his ire.

Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.

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