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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 34, August 19, 2023

Sabyasachi research warning: protect your voter well in advance | Faraz Ahmad

Friday 18 August 2023, by Faraz Ahmad


It is all very well for a good section of Opposition parties to come together and form Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (I.N.D.I.A.) in their bid to defeat the authoritarian, regressive and anti-people Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as they prepare to sit together this time in Mumbai on August 31, but it is time to urgently look at their logistics to perform this stupendous task.

This cannot be achieved but by closely observing BJP management of polling booths and taking a leaf out of Professor Sabyasachi Das research paper which caused such consternation in the ruling party circles that his Ashoka University, seemingly independent and autonomous apparently caved in to pressure from our ruling dispensation to distance itself from this research paper if not bury it under the carpet instantly, which it did, forcing Prof. Das to resign, causing an outrage in the academic fraternity of the university and even outside.

Prof. Das’ painstaking research on 2019 general elections deliberated on whether the BJP manipulated those elections in some key constituencies, specially where there is a sizeable Muslim population to win these by small margins in the 2019 general elections, knowing full well that the Muslim voter is most likely to vote any candidate perceived as possible winner against a BJP candidate.

The panic reaction of the Ashoka University administration proves that there is substance in Prof. Das’ surmises. In his paper he has documented irregular patterns in 2019 general elections and wondered whether these were caused by electoral manipulation or precise control and thus predict win margins, well in advance. Prof Das stated that he compiled several new datasets and presented evidence that is consistent with electoral manipulation in closely contested constituencies and is less supportive of the precise control hypothesis. Manipulation appears to take the form of targeted electoral discrimination against India’s largest minority group – Muslims, partly facilitated by weak monitoring by election observers. The results present a worrying development for the future of democracy, Das paper concluded.

This paper also arrived at the conclusion that wherever the BJP had its state governments, the rate of success of its candidates with small margins was evidently higher causing one to deduce that pliable bureaucracy, and security paraphernalia assisted in this exercise. Meaning that the Election officers from the preparation of voters’ list to the booths and the security staff manning the booths, played a crucial role in sauch manipulation.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam (DMK) president and Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin has put his finger in time to the mechanism of achieving the task of defeating the BJP. On August 17 he held a meeting of 16,978 booth-level agents at Ramanathapuram to motivate and inspire his party workers to ensure BJP defeat in all 40 seats of the state along with one of Puducherry. He has understood that one of the deciding factors in winning against the BJP in 2024 will be monitoring the polling exercise from booth level.

Since the 2009 general elections, which by the way the BJP lost badly under L.K. Advani leadership, the party had come up with the system of ‘booth managers’ Under this proposed system the BJP leadership, which in any case has always been a good planner and manager even in the good old days of Jana Sangh, thanks to the logistical support from the RSS cadres, appointed at least two trusted and hard working booth managers, mostly from among the Sangh activists, at each of the polling booths, particularly in those constituencies where the party had and still has high stakes.

Now each polling booth on an average has a maximum of 1000 voters registered there. This means roughly 200 houses or even less in sparsely populated rural areas. Thus, each booth manager monitors at the most 100 houses much before the elections and thus knows each and every voter registered in his polling booth. So, the BJP knows in advance how many and who all registered in that polling booth are BJP voters. In a normal situation the votes cast are mostly around 600-700. Among those if the BJP has 200-250 committed voters, then the managers will ensure that these are cast certainly even if one or two of those committed voters fail to turn up before the deadline. But that is not the end of the story.

But more crucial is the role of the booth managers and attending polling staff in polling booths where there is a predominance of anti-BJP voters. This became evident recently in the Rampur-Suar assembly constituency. Yogi Adityanath’s government managed to secure disqualification first of UP’s tallest Muslim and Samajwadi Party leader Mohammad Azam Khan elected in 2019 to the Rampur Lok Sabha seat. Simultaneously on a similar specious charge the UP government managed disqualification of Azam Khan’s son Abdullah Azam of his U.P Assembly membership from Suar a pocket burrough of Azam Khan. Immediately thereafter the by election was held in which a BJP ally Apna Dal candidate won against a Samajwadi candidate amidst reports of Muslim voters in large numbers being held back at home by the police force to prevent them to come out to vote. Also reports suggested large scale deletion of Muslim names from voters’ list discovered at the last minute and those arriving at polling booths with voter ID cards, forced to return home without voting, thanks to the complicity of the election staff.

This simply proved how the Samajwadi Party was no match to the BJP in respect of booth monitoring and management. That’s where the opposition INDIA alliance has to learn from Prof. Das’ paper. Stalin is conscious of this and is working in Tamil Nadu to counter BJP in his state where actually there is hardly any threat of BJP making any significant impact. It’s needed most in the Cowland or the Hindi heartland and the North-east— in states where the BJP or its allies are in the government, to first count each and every BJP and anti-BJP voter right from the voters’ list. Then ensure that these voters reach the booth without hindrance from the BJP agents and the partisan polling staff and cast their vote. That is a stupendous task. In Karnataka the Congress had a D.K. Shivkumar who was a hands on team leader. In UP Akhilesh failed for lack of such dedicated and active teams and team leader. But to win against BJP in 2024 each party of the INDIA alliance has to work on these lines. Each of these parties need similar teams and team leaders specially in the BJP ruled states like Gujarat, UP and Assam without which the forging of alliances will make hardly any difference to the outcome of the results.

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