Candidates of the Opposition parties as well as Independents should immediately approach the UN to send observers to India to conduct an independent survey of the coming month long Lok Sabha polls. The BJP-ruled Indian state is fast approaching the status of authoritarian regimes which manipulate the electoral process to perpetuate themselves in power (as in some countries in South-East Asia, South America, and the Middle East). Contested verdicts in some of the recent elections held in Thailand and Turkey indicate the growing tendency on the part of the ruling powers to subvert parliamentary democracy under the much publicized facade of general elections . The subversion occurs through a variety of stages – from the preparation of the voters’ list (where certain voters suspected as opponents of the ruling party are left out), through the voting process (where polling officers often act as agents of the ruling party by instructing the voters, particularly in distant villages, to press on its symbol ), and finally the crucial stage of counting the votes (when the ballot papers or registers on the EVM screen can be manipulated to suit the interests of the ruling party). The ruling powers in India – whether the BJP at the centre, or the Opposition political parties running state governments – all engage in these acts of subversion of parliamentary democracy.
This perverse modus operandi of conducting elections by ruling politicians has invited censure from both dissidents within the domestic sphere, as well as international monitors like the UN observers team. In India today, during the current Lok Sabha polls, apprehensions are already being voiced by civil society activists, former bureaucrats and retired army generals about the fairness of the current electoral process, which is being polluted by propaganda by the ruling party politicians who violate the code of ethics. The Election Commission itself has come under cloud – because of its selective acts of commission and omission. While it lets off Yogi Adityanath with a mild reprimand for his partisan speech describing the Indian army as `Modi Sena,’ or turns a blind eye to a governor of a state, Kalyan Singh, who openly asks people to vote for Narendra Modi, it unleashes its power against every Opposition leader, picking up any utterances that they might have made to criticize Modi, in order to accuse them of violating the model code of conduct. The Election Commission has got into the habit of ignoring the ruling party’s acts which violate the code of conduct – like Modi’s blatant utilization of our army actions in Balakot for his personal and party’s electoral propaganda. It’s obvious that the Election Commission has descended to the depths of pro-ruling party partisanship.
The Election Commission is also embroiled in a controversy that is of a rather technological nature – but crucial for the electorate. It is about the recently introduced ETV machines to count votes, as different from the manual vote counting in the past. Even those who feel confident that the ETV machines cannot be hacked, have expressed misgivings over the wider implications. Two well-known experts, Prabir Purkayastha and Bappa Sinha, in a recent article in the website `The India Forum, while defending the use of ETV, warn us : “… the issue is not whether or not EVMs can be hacked, The issue …. is the need to examine the system in its entirety, including the EVMs, the physical and human checks, to be certain of its integrity.” It is on this front that the Election Commission has failed, by refusing to engage in an open dialogue with the Opposition parties, and instead creating an adversial relationship with them.
The partisan role of the Income Tax department, CBI and other central agencies in solely targeting Opposition party candidates by raiding their homes, to the exclusion of BJP candidates (who have also been known to have assumed wealth disproportionate to their source of income), seems to have further emboldened the Election Commission to side with the ruling party – as evident from its pardoning off Yogi Adityanath and Kalyan Singh for their egregious comments that violate the code of conduc.
When the Election Commission, which is the supreme authority entrusted with the responsibility of conducting free and fair elections, is found to be betraying its official responsibility by acting in favour of the candidates of the ruling party, we must approach the UN to send its monitoring team to India to inspect the conducting of the Lok Sabha polls under the present Election Commission, and come out with a report of its performance. The Bangladesh government had the honesty to invite foreign observers to monitor its 2018 national elections. Will the Modi government dare to expose the BJP’s electoral malpractices to an international monitoring team ?
Sumanta Banerjee is a political and civil rights activist and social scientist. Email: email@example.com