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The maths & chemistry of scientific rigging

Einstein was never known to have been very fond of algebra. But the man who gave the world perhaps the most recognisable physical equation would have balked at another apocryphal one that holds the key to Bengal?s electoral conundrum: D+L+A+VL = 60,000.

india Updated: Apr 08, 2004 16:11 IST
Aloke Banerjee
Aloke Banerjee
PTI
Hindustantimes

Thank goodness for small mercies. Albert Einstein was never known to have been very fond of algebra. But the man who gave the world perhaps the most recognisable physical equation would have balked at another apocryphal one that holds the key to West Bengal’s electoral conundrum: D+L+A+VL = 60,000.

And the Election Commission’s special observer for West Bengal, Afzal Amanullah, also needs to brush up his algebra and prepare a ready reckoner to tackle this equation if he is committed to stop bogus voting in the state.

But then this alone wouldn’t be enough. Amanullah must move to stop the sale of certain brands of antiseptic creams, which will soon start moving off the shelves fast, and all lotions, cosmetic or otherwise, that contain potassium chloride before the polling process begins.

Though this seemingly absurd equation will fox mathematicians, cadres of all major parties are not only well versed with it, but also have mastered the chemistry of several brands of cosmetic creams and solution.

What Amanullah calls “silent rigging” in West Bengal has been perfected to the realm of an art. The unwritten ‘riggers’ manual’ includes a five-step programme, implemented meticulously in “marginal” seats where the smallest swing can wrest a seat. It is not mantra in those seats where the results are foregone conclusions, several activists of rival parties — who claim to have actually cast false votes — told Hindustan Times.

The first, and easiest, of the five steps is a survey finished at least three months before the start of the election process. This pinpoints the voters who have died and their names not yet deleted from the rolls. These voters are denoted as ‘D’. The survey also identifies those voters who have left the area (denoted by ‘L’) or are likely to be absent on the day of polling (denoted by ‘A’).

The second step is executed during the revision of voters’ lists. Here, names of as many of sympathisers of rival parties as possible are deleted. These ‘unfriendly voters’ are called ‘VL’.

The paperwork ends with the second step and with the third comes more aggressive manoeuvring In it, those likely to be polling agents of rival parties and will man the booths on polling day are identified. The idea is to try and bribe or intimidate them so that they do not make too much of a fuss when the false votes are actually cast. The rival agents of about 10 per cent of the booths are targeted. Dummy candidates are often fielded with an eye on these targeted booths — agents of these candidates will shout down any objections raised by the rival agents in the heat of polling.

The fourth step involves bulk purchase of chemicals which when applied can remove the ‘indelible’ ink from the index finger of the voter. Some bogus voters prefer to apply a popular brand of cream before they enter the booth. When the indelible ink has been marked on the cream-stained finger, it comes off easily when rubbed with a matchstick.

According to experts in the art of rigging, cream is the more popular choice in rural areas. In urban areas, the preference is for a solution of potassium chloride which removes the ink-stain instantly. With the use of these tools, thousands of false votes are cast against names of dead or absent voters. In poll parlance, false votes cast against the names of voters who are known to support the rival party are coded as “reverse swing”.

The fifth and final step is more of a back-up in case the other steps do not yield full results. It is also a combination of several activities — deliberately slowing down the pace of voting when a group of supporters of rival candidates queue to vote. The police are also influenced to pick up musclemen of rival parties the night before polls.

The bottomline, say ‘experts’, is to collect around 60,000 votes in this fashion. This figure can make all the difference in marginal seats.