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The three stooges

In India, we have an Election Commission of India (ECI) that has not been a fair cop, so it devolves upon civil society to train an eye on it for the rest of the election season.

The three stooges

NEW DELHI: With four phases of polling done, the current Lok Sabha election has turned out to be anything but an unequal contest. After 70 per cent of the 543 constituencies have voted, we are hearing reports from across the country that the ground is slipping under the ruling party’s feet. While there are no signs of the BJP gaining any substantial ground in the South, analysts from a variety of disciplines are forecasting serious setbacks to it in Maharashtra, Haryana and Bihar, and sizable losses in Rajasthan.

However, with significant swathes in the Hindi belt still to vote, we stand at a tipping point in this election, from which all outcomes are possible. To ensure that the true mandate of the people is delivered, we must at this point reckon with how the election referee will conduct the next three phases of polling and the vote count thereafter and how this authoritarian regime will react to an adverse outcome.

Globally, we have recent examples of right-wing ruling parties resisting peaceful transfer of power and compromised institutions assisting them in such undemocratic efforts. In India, we have an Election Commission of India (ECI) that has not been a fair cop, so it devolves upon civil society to train an eye on it for the rest of the election season.

It is a welcome development therefore that citizen rights groups have woken up to this duty to chaperone the rest of the election. Last weekend, citizens across the country began a campaign to nudge the ECI to ‘grow a spine or resign’. The Association for Democratic Reforms has filed a petition in the Supreme Court questioning the undue delay in tabulating the votes polled (11 days after the first phase of polling) and the sharp increase (5-6%) in the final vote percentage as compared to the initial figure released on polling day. Five major journalist organisations are dismayed by the ECI’s reluctance to hold a press conference on polling day or to release the absolute number of votes polled, preferring to hide behind percentages.

Besides this, a mountain of evidence has piled up against the three stooges of the ECI to justify a civil society vigil over it in the coming crucial weeks. Even before the campaign began, RTI activists received no convincing explanation from ECI for the mismatch between an increase in the number of voters and polling booths and a decrease in the number of EVMs being used. Its steadfast fidelity to the EVM, despite surveys showing that voters have no trust in it, is perplexing, as is its fierce refusal to allow a VVPAT count to square up the vote recorded in the ballot unit.

Nothing brings out the ECI’s partisanship in sharper relief than its deafness to the Prime Minister’s hate speech against Muslims, particularly his allusion to them as “those who have many children”. The ECI’s response to multiple complaints by the opposition parties was to send a notice, not to Narendra Modi, but to BJP president JP Nadda. Compare this tardiness with its alacrity in imposing a two-day ban on BRS chief K Chandrashekar Rao for using intemperate language and cracking down on the campaign songs of the Aam Aadmi Party and Shiv Sena (Uddhav) for using the words ‘Jai Bhavani’ and ‘Hindu’.

An unexpected outcome may well be in the making in this election, but the fact is we do not have a fair referee in the game. It then becomes the duty of civil society to ensure that the truth of the mandate is properly revealed to the people.

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