In India's hinterland, young activists are demanding ban on EVM, changes in electoral process
In Mau, Uttar Pradesh, a local community of social activists who call themselves the Aabhaas Mahasangh Mandal are leading a campaign against the use of EVMs
This is not a new story. Noise around the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) has been making headlines for the better part of 2017 and 2018, especially all the buzz around the “foul” associated with it, usually directly proportionate to the number of seats a party in the fray did not manage to achieve.
In March 2018, the Congress demanded a return of paper ballots, while in May this year, Samajwadi Party (SP) president Akhilesh Yadav cited concerns over the EVM in the Kairana bypolls. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too, has complained of suspected EVM tampering/failures during the civic polls in Banda when the candidate fielded by the SP, Mohan Sahu, was elected chairman. The Delhi chief minister and president of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Arvind Kejriwal is a known crusader against the EVM.
With state elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh around the corner, the Election Commission is preempting some of the allegations over erroneous and malicious usage of the EVM by introducing various corrective measures and putting into place new methodologies, such as the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail, or the VVPAT. Even as major parties squabble over voter lists, innovation is on the agenda too, with the first Braille-enabled machines being launched with the Rajasthan polls.
In Bundelkhand’s Chitrakoot district, the EVM has been front and centre of a drive in anticipation of the 2019 elections, arguably one of the most definitive polls of the country’s history. In Mau block, Mau tehsil, a local community of social activists who call themselves the Aabhaas Mahasangh Mandal, headed by a few charged young men such as Dharmendra Kumar Bhaskar, are leading the campaign. 'EVM hatao, desh bachao (Get rid of the EVM and save the nation)' is their mantra, and we chance upon their cries and ambition one fine day, looking up a few official records at the tehsil office.
They’re all on a mission, it would appear, trying to save quite a few things. “Country, constitution, democracy, state”, prime among them, according to Lovelesh Kumar Virag, a 20-something Aabhaas Mahasangh member, who is evidently styling himself after the 'local leader' vibe. “We all know what’s happening today," he says, speaking about his view of the BJP’s political strategies, “Chaaron or khatra mandra raha hai. (There is danger hovering over us, in every direction you look).” Virag cites caste-based politics as the biggest evil threatening to engulf the country and repeats himself when he says, “We must save the Constitution.”
The EVM, the Mahasangh believes, is at the crux of this fight – banning it would be in keeping with the true spirit of democracy, both transparent and just. Not known to sport any political party affiliations locally, the Mahasangh is protesting against the EVM outside the tehsildar’s office, demanding their petition, which is written and signed, be dispatched off to the president of India at once. “Unbiased elections are the spine of any democracy," says Bhaskar, not one to be usurped by Virag in the heat of the moment, “our local authorities can prove that to us by listening to our appeal.”
We turn back to Virag, who it turns out, is also a conspiracy theorist, “If you speak against EVMs, you’re being arrested. It happened in Gujarat. So there has to be some big agenda here.” Upon prodding further, we understand that he is referring to the arrest of BAMCEF president Waman Meshram in Ahmedabad last week, when he was not given permission to hold a rally as part of the Parivartan Yatra held by the Bahujan Kranti Morcha.
The SDM at the Mau tehsil, Totaram, looks exhausted as he’s approached by local media and the young, restless men of Chitrakoot. Promising to send off the petition, he documents this official gesture and makes a quick exit.
Meanwhile, Virag has the last word, “We might as well all go in for a dictatorship. Until then, it’s our duty to not let the authorities sleep over this.”
Khabar Lahariya is a women-only network of rural reporters from Bundelkhand.
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