The all-round praise for the way the election commission is supervising the ongoing elections is well deserved. But a flaw that hasn’t come in for adequate public scrutiny is impinging on ‘free and fair’ conduct of polls.
For understanding the seriousness of the problem, let us take up Ajit Pawar’s warning to Baramati voters: “I will cut off water to the village…I will get to know from the voting machine (who you have voted for).”
The NCP leader, who is the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, did not say how he’d get to know which side the voters have gone.
The gap sought to be exploited is in the booth-level counting process, in which candidates get to know where they scored well and where they performed poorly.
The counting loophole exposes voters to post-election harassment and persecution — including denial of development in the area — in states where parties holding power fail in parliamentary elections.
The concern cuts across parties — depending on the state under discussion.
But the fear is tangible in these elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, where post-poll retribution could be rampant. “Booth-level counting is a mockery of the secret vote. It can be misused by elements given to intimidating voters,” said a Congress leader in Punjab.
His apprehensions were shared by BJP leaders in the Yadav strongholds of Firozabad-Etawah-Mainpuri, where the word of Mulayam Singh’s family is law.
Not that the EC is oblivious of this grave downside in the counting process. It had contemplated using a digital substitute for the pre-EVM era system of mixing ballot papers from randomly selected boxes before initiating the counting. Called the Totalizer, the digital antidote aggregates votes from 10 different EVMs to safeguard secrecy of booth-level voting patterns.
Former CEC SY Quraishi told this writer that when political parties were given a demonstration of the ‘digital mixing’ substitute, they were “for it”. He said: “The proposal couldn’t be implemented as it remained pending before a parliamentary committee.”
The onus, therefore, is as much on the political establishment as on the EC. The issue wasn’t addressed with the alacrity it deserved, exposing the poll process to abuse across states ruled by rival regional and national parties.
The least the EC can now do is to issue a statement warning elements seeking to vitiate polling in the remaining four rounds. That will chasten trouble makers and embolden apprehensive voters.