The unending controversy over electronic voting machines (EVMs) has acquired a fresh thrust from the state of Andhra Pradesh where by-elections are scheduled later this month. These developments take the fight against the EVMs to a new level of political protest and are fast forwarding the exit of EVMs much sooner than expected. The more the Election Commission is trying to resist EVM reform and mindlessly even blocking a dialogue with political parties, parties have begun to develop doubts about the reliability of the EVMs and the impartiality of the poll body.
Here are the developments in Andhra Pradesh that must send alarm bills ringing in Nirvachan Sadan, headquarters of Election Commission of India.
Separate statehood demand for Telangana would be on test on July 27, the day 12 assembly constituencies would go to polls. These by-elections have become necessary after 11 sitting MLAs of the TRS and one MLA of the BJP resigned in protest against the Central government’s flip flops on the separate statehood demand. The resignation was a culmination of the tumultuous developments that rocked Andhra Pradesh for several weeks earlier this year over statehood demand for Telangana.
The “mini general election” in the region has been billed as a referendum on the statehood demand by the chief protagonist of the statehood demand; K. Chandrasekhara Rao of the Telangana Rastra Samiti (TRS). He is firing all cylinders to ensure that his by-election gamble works. TRS’s success in bypolls would fast forward Telangana state formation, while its failure may sound a death knell for the statehood demand and seal TRS’s future. Hence, the stakes are too high for the TRS.
A few days ago, the TRS had urged the Election Commission of India to use paper ballots in the by-elections rather than EVMs as it fears that EVMs are not foolproof and reliable. As expected, the Election Commission of India refused to heed the advice.
The reason advanced by the TRS leaders: “There are many instances where the EVMs were misused by ruling parties for favourable results. We are getting reports that the Congress has hatched a conspiracy to defeat the TRS by using the EVMs as a strong weapon. To thwart their plans, we want to stop the use of EVMs, ” the TRS leader Vinod Kumar told the Times of India in Hyderabad.
With the ECI not listening, the TRS has now found a novel plan to thwart Election Commission’s plan to use EVMs in by-polls. It has decided to ensure that at least 70 candidates are in the fray in every assembly constituency and has sounded out its district leaders to get many independents to file nominations. As the present EVMs can work only if the number of candidates does not exceed 64, this action would render use of EVMs in by-elections impossible.
ECI would now be forced to use paper ballots in by-polls rather than EVMs. This is a fitting response to a recalcitrant Election Commission that has been arrogantly avoiding a dialogue with political parties even after they have collective expressed their fears in joint memorandum to the ECI earlier last month.
Dialogue is essential and integral in a functional democracy and the ECI has been acting in an undemocratic and autocratic manner in all aspects concerning EVMs. The TRS has taken the first step to frustrate the ECI’s plans. Today, it is TRS. Tomorrow, it could be AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, SP in Uttar Pradesh etc.
As I have argued in this blog, the count down for the EVMs has started long back and it is a matter of months before they become history. Efforts to block the EVMs are underway on all fronts: political, legal, legislative and civil society. Collectively, they will deliver a death blow to the unreliable, non-transparent electronic voting discarded by all mature democracies.
The TRS’s initiative is demonstrative of my conviction that the EVMs would be gone in less than two years. It may happen much sooner; with or without Election Commission’s consent, keenness or even knowledge.