Amid Polling & Counting
By Dr S. Saraswathi
(Former Director ICSSR, New Delhi)
Polling for 2019 Lok Sabha election, in seven phases stretching to 39 days from April 11-May 19 has completed six phases. It is a period of expectations for some parties and contestants and anxiety for all without exception. While voters and non-voters patiently wait for the counting day and political analysts and observers are busy calculating the chances of the candidates, parties are preparing for post-poll alliances.
Seven weeks is a long period for polling and it is certainly a tedious job policing the conduct of political parties and candidates. The vigour of mutual attacks is growing from phase to phase. Several agencies are conducting exit polls but cannot release the findings until all phases of polling are completed.
Parties are making their own assessments of polling trends and change their canvassing strategies and post-poll politics. In the meantime, leaders have a common tendency of visualising their own victory to draw voters in the last phase and prepare for post-counting operations.
2019 is witnessing by far the most bitter election battle, which instead of subsiding after polling started intensified further. Issues and promises are changing from place to place and along with them the strategies of attacking one another.
The Election Commission is presently the most sought after constitutional body to resolve the grievances of parties and candidates. The Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) is the principal target of attack of the current Opposition parties suspecting and voicing possibilities of manipulation. It is partly preparatory to seeking refuge under the cover of faulty machines in case of failure.
Nirvachan Sadan is flooded with complaints of violations of Model Code of Conduct (MCC) never seen before. Derogatory and provocative remarks and lies and distortions in campaign speeches have become common.
The EC in this election is cornered for both action and inaction. Recall, on April 15, a Supreme Court bench headed by the CJI had pulled it up for not acting against “hate speeches and statements on religious lines.” After this, the EC took some action against top leaders of the Congress, the BJP and even scrutinised PM’s speeches for violation of MCC. It also blocked the release of the film “PM Narendra Modi” during the election period.
Post-poll alliance is the hot topic among many parties looking forward to a hung Parliament and a coalition government. TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu, presently sticking to the theme of post-poll alliance to keep the BJP out of power, forecasts only three possibilities — grouping under Congress leadership; forming a non-Congress, non-BJP grouping with “outside support of Congress” called Third Front; or forming non-BJP alliance inclusive of the Congress. A meeting of Opposition parties on completion of polling to exchange ideas on government formation, including choice of PM is now postponed to take place after announcement of results.
To the TDP, the period between polling and counting is a time for bringing together as many non-BJP parties as possible to form and/or help to form a non-BJP government. For some parties, it will mean reconciliation with a rival after a bitter election fight — a move justified as a “democratic and secular compulsion”. A front of non-Congress and non-BJP parties, i.e. the Third Front of TRS does not appeal to TDP. Replacing Prime Minister Modi is the principal objective of TDP leader.
TRS chief KCR, who was keen on a federal front from the beginning of alliance talks in March last year and is hopeful of winning all the 17 Lok Sabha seats in Telangana, has resumed the dialogue after four phases of polling. Having opted for State Assembly election before the end of its term and winning again with massive mandate, defeating both the Congress and BJP, he is optimistic of a major role for regional parties in forming the government at the Centre. In the hope of pushing both national parties – the BJP and Congress – to be at the mercy of regional parties to build majority, he has taken initiative to convert other regional parties to his line of thinking.
KCR has already met Kerala Chief Minister Vijayan, had a telephonic conversation with Karnataka Chief Minister Kumaraswamy, and has met DMK chief Stalin, also who does not support Third Front idea.
However, the desirability of re-enacting 1996 experiment in 2019 needs to be carefully examined by the potential allies. Politics must be played for national interest and not for party or private benefits. Parties are also readying excuses for bad performance and have picked on the EVM, which is already at the centre of controversy with the Congress leading the Opposition attack on lack of tamper-proof machines.
Recall, in February, the Opposition sought 50 per cent random verification of EVMs with Voter Verification Paper Audit Trial (VVPAT) slips. The EC objected as this would extend the counting process and delay the results.
In an unprecedented move, 21 non-NDA leaders led by AP Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu moved the Supreme Court nearly a month before the commencement of polling seeking a direction to the EC to count VVPAT slips of at least 50% of EVMs in the General election, i.e. 125 polling booths in every constituency. The signatories to the petition included leaders from NCP, Congress, TMC, LJD, SP, BSP, DMK, CPM, CPI, RJD, AAP, NC, JDS, RLD, AIUDF, HAM, JVM, IUML, NPF, and TJS. Though they have many differences amongst them preventing pre-poll alliances, they are one in blaming the EVMs for their losses in any place.
They challenged the EC’s guidelines which make it mandatory for counting of VVPATs from only one random polling station per Assembly constituency, which meant less than 0.44 per cent of EVMs in the country. So on April 22, the Opposition parties filed a review petition seeking at least “33% or 25%” VVPAT verification, if not 50%. The review plea contended that “Indian democracy could not be left to the mercy of EVM programmers”. It also complained of “large-scale tampering and elective malfunctioning of EVMs in the Lok Sabha polls so far”.
The apex Court dismissed the plea to review its judgement rejecting 50 per cent physical verification of EVMs using VVPATs. The court directed the EC to increase physical counting of VVPAT slips to five random EVMs in each Assembly segment/constituency.
Following the dismissal of the review petition, a delegation of Opposition parties met the EC seeking “transparency” in its functioning in order to ensure ‘free and fair’ election. It was also explained that the review petition was filed “to underline a grave and serious threat to democracy”. Affirming that they would abide by the Supreme Court’s decision, the delegation expressed its intention of carrying on an all-India campaign “to make the electorate and the citizens aware of the perils and pitfalls of the current electoral process” thus choosing to lead the nation towards a backward progress in the election system. Several complaints of malfunctioning of the EVM-VVPAT machines are also being reported.
As the suspense period politics between polling and counting is getting more and more murky, we have to shorten the period since politics cannot be cleansed. —INFA