Brig Anil Gupta
The concern expressed by the leaders of the opposition parties at Mamta Banerjee’s United India Rally in Kolkatta on the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) is not only perplexing but confusing as well. The opposition is so serious about the misuse of EVMs that it has appointed a four member panel comprising Manu Singhvi of the Congress, Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, Satish Mishra of the Bahujan Samaj Party and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to press the Election Commission on wider use of voter-verified paper audit trails (VVPATs) and campaign against malfunctioning of the EVMs.
While many opposition leaders raised the issue of EVMs the loudest of them all was none other than the maverick Kashmiri politician Farooq Abdullah, President of National Conference, who has earned the reputation of one who “changes colour with each season” and is hardly taken seriously by the voters. “The EVM is a chor (thief) machine. Honestly speaking, it is so. Its use must be put to an end,” he thundered at the rally in his usual theatrical style. However, Chief Election Commissioner of India has criticised the opposition parties and blamed them of treating the EVMs like a “football” by using the EVMs as alibi to their poor electoral performances. He has further emphasised that the EVMs were foolproof as far as fears of manipulation were concerned. According to his predecessor OP Rawat the political parties only question the EVMs when they lose elections. “Generally this has been the trend. When they win, they don’t give credit to EVMs, but when they lose they all blame the EVMs,” Mr. Rawat said.
Though the opposition parties have formed an election cartel in the form of “Mahagathbandhan”, yet they are not sure of their victory in the impending 2019 general elections. Hence, they are trying to create a public perception about the EVMs by stating that these can be easily hacked and hence misused by the ruling party. In doing so, they are not only casting aspersions on the independent functioning of the Election Commission of India but also creating an adverse international opinion about the Indian democracy. They are also casting aspersions on the nation’s judicial system since numerous courts including the Supreme Court have ruled in favour of the fairness of elections conducted with EVMs. The reality is that the unity of the opposition is not guided by any ideological glue but the urge to survive. It is somewhat similar to the Panchtantra story about animals of all hue and cry who formed the cartel against the king of the jungle the lion.
There are inherent contradictions among the Mahagathbandhan, which the people of the country understand because similar endeavours in the past have proved as disastrous and weakened our nation and its well defined institutions. The nation can ill afford to handover its reins to ambitious regional satraps whose vision is limited to the vote bank in their respective states and for whom national interests or nation’s economy is secondary to their regional interests. Ironically, Congress is willing to play a second fiddle because it sees no future in the coming elections. Like the poorly trained handyman always blames his tools, the election cartel formed by the regional parties sensing imminent defeat has begun to raise the bogey of EVMs.
It would be interesting to note that EVMs were first introduced in the country by the Congress Government in 1982 in a by-election in Kerala and were used for the first time in the entire state of Goa during the election of 1999 which Congress won handsomely. 2004 Lok Sabha elections were held using only the EVMs. With the introduction of EVMs, the chances of rigging of elections, through booth capturing, that had been mastered by the Congress to remain in power were minimised. Though the Congress won the 2004 and 2009 general elections it failed to gain absolute majority on its own and had to enter into alliances to form the Government. But Congress made no noise since it was able to form the Government on both occasions. Decreasing popularity of Congress reached its nadir in 2014 and it started to blame the EVMs for its every electoral loss thereafter. Modi wave which hit the nation as Tsunami swept away the regional parties as well who also like the Congress began to put the blame on EVMs.
Isn’t it perplexing that the party which introduced the EVMs in the country and hailed it as the biggest electoral reform found nothing wrong with the machines till 2014, when all of a sudden it became the biggest critic of the machines? The reason is obvious. As long as the going was good, everything was hunky dory but unable to swallow the disgraceful defeat of 2014 and subsequent state elections it started blaming the EVMs rather than respecting the peoples’ verdict gracefully. The Congress saw a glimmer of hope when it managed to win the election in the three BJP ruled states towards the end of 2018. However, a detailed analysis of the elections revealed that the defeat of BJP was not due to a popular vote shift towards Congress but due to the provision of NOTA (None of the Above). Unsure of the NOTA coming to its rescue once again in the 2019 general elections, Congress has continued with its tirade against the EVMs.
Coming closer home, it is not at all surprising that Farooq Abdullah is making loud noises against the EVMs and terming them as “Chor Machines.” Farooq knows that his party has been exposed so badly that it stands no chance of returning to power if free and fair elections are heard. He doesn’t want to be held responsible for the decline and subsequent demise of the Abdullah dynasty in Kashmir. He wants the state to return to those days when his father Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah had pioneered the art of rigging elections since he wanted J&K to be a “Single Party State” and abhorred opposition. Beginning in 1951, NC or later its converted avtaar Congress depended on rigged elections to remain in power. Introduction of EVMs in the state reversed the trend and sounded the bugle of the decline of NC. The unprecedented rigging done by Farooq and his alliance partner Congress led by Rajiv Gandhi is considered as the raison d’etre for eruption of militancy in the state. Incidentally, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed ex Chief Minister and father of Mehbooba Mufti was the Congress boss in the state. Wish EVMs had been introduced in 1987, our state would have been saved from the vagaries of ongoing militancy and Pak sponsored proxy war since Abdullah and Co would not have been able to rig the elections.
To ensure free and fair elections in J&K, NDA Government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee for the first time introduced EVMs in 2002 assembly elections. NC got a rude shock when its seat share declined to just 28 from 57. The vote share of NC nosedived in every subsequent election. In 2008 its seat share remained unchanged but managed to form the Government with the support of Congress. Surprisingly, neither NC nor Congress found anything wrong with the EVMs but failed to read the growing unpopularity among the voters. In 2014, both NC and Congress were decimated but still they did not blame the EVMs. Farooq won a parliamentary election in 2017 polling seven percent votes.
Till then everything was fine. However, the conduct of local bodies and panchayat elections in the state gave a rude shock to NC and Farooq woke from a deep slumber. He realised that his party has lost its mass base and is no longer acceptable to the people of J&K, particularly, Kashmiris its core constituency. It is this awakening that has prompted Farooq to term the EVMs as “Chor Machines.” Incidentally, Farooq is under a wrong impression that voting with postal ballots will win back the mandate for his party. Kashmiris will not allow him to re-enact 1987.
Sensing the nation’s mood, the opposition parties are disheartened but pretending to put up a bold effort. “Jo garajtehain who barastenahi” , people know that loud noises being made by these parties carry no meaning but are meant only to ensure saving of their skins as majority of their leaders are facing judicial proceedings for corruption and misuse of authority. The electorate has matured over the years to not be misled by the fake campaign launched by them. Their defeat in the forthcoming elections is a foregone conclusion and hence they are preparing ground to justify their defeat by blaming the EVMs. Is the machine “chor” or their “niyat” (intent) chor, only the time will tell? In a democracy, people are the ultimate deciders.
(The author is a Jammu based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst.)
Brig Anil Gupta