Elections are over in Andhra Pradesh. But, the political fight continues. Chandrababu Naidu shifted the scene of war to New Delhi. Soon he will make it a national fight in the remaining phases of elections. Naidu is expected to tour other states in support of his regional allies especially those who campaigned for him.
While Chandrababu Naidu launched an all out battle on Election Commission of India, the opposition leader YS Jaganmohan Reddy is conspicuously silent on the functioning of Electronic Voting Machines. The YSR Congress MP, Vijaya Sai Reddy has gone to the extent of writing a letter of appreciation for the work done by the ECI. Thus, the Andhra political battle is fought around the functioning of EC . Thus, the politics, more than the facts dominate the discourse on EC.
The autonomy of ECI was never in question as it is today. There are justifiable reasons for this. The election schedule announcement for the three Hindi states was delayed by couple of hours to ensure that Prime minister Narendra Modi completes his rally in Rajasthan and the BJP chief Minister rolls out her promises thus escaping the scrutiny under the model code of conduct. Earlier, the Gujarat election schedule announcement was unacceptably delayed to give sufficient time for the ruling BJP to continue with it s poll populism. The EC remains unconcerned even when its own guidelines on model code are brazenly violated. The ECI cautioned all the parties not to invoke the army in electioneering. But, Narendra Modi sought votes in the name of Pulwama martyrs and Balakot soldiers. The photographs of armed forces are used. The Uttar Pradesh Chief minister Yogi Adityanath described Indian army as Modi army. The ECI acted on Modi biopic and Namo TV only after a furore over it.
The failure of ECI to sanitise the electoral rolls is palpable. Complainants of large scale deletions and non inclusions are a shame on our democracy. In the age of technology, how is that ECI fails to compile a reasonably accurate voter list.
The Election Commission offered simple regrets on its failure to ensure that no genuine voter is deprived of his or her voting rights that too after the Telangana Assembly elections.
The controversial transfer of state government officers in Andhra Pradesh added fuel to the fire.
But, the worst has come on the polling day with significantly large number of EVMs developing technical snags forcing the authorities to delay the poll for hours together. It is unprecedented that voters had to cast their vote late into the midnight. It still remains a mystery why such a large number of EVM reported malfunctioning only in Andhra Pradesh.
The blatant refusal of the ECI even in the Supreme Court to count more number of VVPATs raise further doubts in the minds of voters and parties alike. It may be recalled that apex court had to force ECI to introduce VVPAT machines and finally had to order the commission to count five machines in each assembly constituency.
The election eve IT raids on opposition leaders across the nation and the ECI remaining a passive spectator made the criticism on it more strident.
Despite all this, YS Jaganmohan Reddy’s silence on the failures of ECI to conduct free and fair elections is incomprehensible. However, Chandrababu Naidu’s demand for doing away with EVMs has to be received with at least some contempt. Chandrababu Naidu expressed similar apprehensions on EVMs after the 2009 verdict. But he has not done so after his victory in 2014. Even while in NDA Naidu did precious little to bring about a political consensus on the return to ballot. Not just Naidu, every other politician questions the EVMs only when they are on loosing wicket or lost the match. They will be conspicuously silent if they receive the mandate. The BJP in 2009 did so. KCR was critical of EVMs in 2009. But now is more than happy with the EVMs. More surprisingly, the Congress questioned EVM use in Telangana but not in the three North Indian states where it won.
Such political duplicity robs the shine from the crusade on EVMs. Yet, genuine questions on the technology still remain. The ECI has to answer. No technology can be completely tamper proof. Therefore, it is more than imperative to restore the voters confidence in the EVMs. This demands introduction of checks and verifiability .
Counting a significant number of VVPATs will go a long way in restoring this confidence in the EVMs. Ensuring that these machines are free from malfunctioning is yet another necessity. Politicians should realise that it is undesirable to throw the baby with the bathwater.
( Prof.K. Nageshwar is India’s noted political analyst. He is a former member of the Telangana Legislative Council and professor in the Department of Communication & Journalism, Osmania University, Hyderabad, India )