West Bengal civic polls: Why try complexities of EVM tampering when violence is a simpler way to rig elections?

A lot of airtime, digital space and newsprint has of late been spent discussing subversion of democracy by "tampering" with EVMs. Electoral drubbing has led to some parties floating elaborate theories on how these machines could be hacked and made to show fake results. This is a serious charge but parties levelling these allegations have, so far, failed to back it with any solid evidence.

The Aam Admi Party, in particular, has upped the ante and had staged a pantomime right inside the Delhi Assembly to 'prove' their point. Yet, it doesn't need a dubious drama with fake EVMs to show that electoral procedures can be tampered with. The institutions of Indian democracy are still not stable enough to withstand the pulls and pressures of coercion.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

In reality, elections can be subverted in ways other than "changing the motherboard" of an EVM or punching "secret security codes" in it. One only needs to take a look at West Bengal to see how there are cruder and simpler ways of unleashing electoral frauds.

Keeping up its long "tradition", three out of seven civic bodies across five districts in the state that went to elections on Sunday, witnessed widespread violence, charges of booth capture and rigging. Nearly all the allegations — spraying bullets, lobbing bombs, destroying EVMs, beating up members of the media and interfering with their work — were leveled against goons apparently owing allegiance to the ruling Trinamool Congress.

While the Hill municipalities — Darjeeling, Kurseong, Mirik and Kalimpong — were quiet, the plains were not so. Raiganj in North Dinajpur district, Pujali in South 24 Parganas and Domkal, the freshly created municipality in Murshidabad district were the epicenters as armed goons took centrestage from the morning. Local TV channels were awash with reports of crude bombs being hurled, country-made pistols pressed into service and polling booths being jammed by "outsiders".

These three municipalities captured in a nutshell the changing scenario of Bengal's political map. The Left and Congress entered into an unofficial seat-sharing arrangement to protect one of the last few bastions from TMC's dominance. Just ahead of the elections, the TMC had engineered a large-scale split within Congress by managing to wean away five of their declared candidates. Completing the three-way arc is BJP, the rising force in Bengal politics. During the campaigning stage, the BJP focused on tapping into Hindu resentment against Mamata Banerjee's identity politics — a tactic that has brought it political space and rich dividends during the just concluded Kanthi Dakshin bypoll.

With politics of polarisation gaining prominence, TMC has of late been extremely wary of a larger Hindu consolidation in BJP's favour. The party seems to have stumbled onto a late realisation that the politics of minority appeasement that it has been indulging for so long to lock the nearly 30 percent Muslim votes in this border state is working beautifully to BJP's advantage.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

By the turn of the New Year, there has been a volley of activity from TMC to show that they are not an 'anti-Hindu party'. To counter BJP's Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti processions that have drawn rapid eyeballs and support, the TMC has unleashed its own version of 'puja politics'. While the chief minister — who has taken some controversial, unprecedented decisions such as allotting stipends to imams and muezzins — suddenly shifted gear to focus on the state's cultural identity ahead of the religious identity, her generals have been holding competitive Hanuman pujas and processions. Amid this cauldron, every election at every level is an inevitable march towards an inflection point in Bengal politics that may arrive sooner rather than later.

With the stakes being this high, Raiganj, Domkal and Pujali was sucked into a vortex of violence on Sunday with a united Opposition at the end of the day demanding a repoll in all three seats and blasting the State Election Commissioner for 'failing' to conduct free and fair polls. The Left, Congress and even the BJP announced withdrawal of their candidates from the three troubled civic bodies and described Sunday's proceedings as a 'farce'.

"Today the election turned into a farce after the way Trinamool Congress goons terrorised the Raiganj, Domkol and Pujali municipality areas. Three of our workers sustained bullet injuries. Moreover, the State Election Commission (SEC) failed to control the violence and turned into mute spectators along with the police. The poll panel… should countermand the election in Raiganj, Domkol and Pujali municipalities and order a repoll", said CPM’s state secretary Surjya kanta Mishra was quoted, as saying on Sunday by The Indian Express.

BJP state president Dilip Ghosh and state Congress chief Adhir Chowdhury echoed Mishra's allegations. TMC has dismissed all charges with its spokespersons claiming that the Opposition allegations are a result of frustration. Yet even a cursory look at history suggests a close link between violence and polls in Bengal with the ruling party traditionally using it as a tool to stop democracy in its tracks.

Nobody has forgotten what happened in 2015 when TMC was accused of perpetrating mindless violence during civic body polls in Bidhan Nagar and Asansol. Mamata Banerjee, incidentally, has lent her voice to allegations of EVM tampering. Yet another example of some of the most enduring ironies of Indian politics.

Updated Date: May 15, 2017 08:25 AM

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