Communists ?sweep? Kolkata by rigging
By Udayan Namboodiri
On Sunday June 19, the people of Kolkata and its eastern satellite, Salt Lake, were exposed to election rigging of an unimaginable scale. Booth jamming, voter intimidation and large scale takeover of election centres are passe in West Bengal. With the police and administration in the pockets of the ruling party, the CPI(M)-led Left Front, the communists never shied away from using these methods to perpetuate their rule. But this time, the technology of election manipulation took a generational leap when the Marxists proved that even electronic voters? machines (EVMs) can be manipulated to produce wondrous outcomes. Sure enough, when the results were declared two days later, nobody was surprised. Enough reports and editorials on rigging had been produced in the interregnum to convince the ordinary Bengali that the CPI(M)'swould have no problem in recapturing Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) after a gap of five years and retaining Salt Lake Municipality. What left everyone shaken, however, was the impunity with which the Stalinists deployed their terrifying methods. A metropolis of 14 million, which includes the creamiest layer of the Bengali bhadraloke elite – the same class whose forebears authored the emergence of Indian nationalism and sculpted the nation'sdemocratic principles – was made to realise the grim fact that under Communism'ssteamroller, nothing is sacred or dear.
In the past, the CPI(M) had always faced a problem with putting their well-known rigging technology to work in Kolkata. Unlike in the villages where thousands of people could be intimidated without much difficulty, the reality of the state capital, where the electorate is more educated and the different arms of civil society, including the media, are omnipresent, threw up some formidable obstacles. During the municipal election of 1990, a half-baked attempt at transplanting the brilliant experiment of the countryside blew up on the Communists? face when the entire rigging process was captured on camera and splashed on the front pages of every newspaper. That sobered up the apparatchik somewhat and over the next 15 years, the Communists more or less reconciled to their marginalisation in Kolkata and its agglomerate.
But, in 2005, they produced a profoundly new rabbit out of their hat. Aware of the collective strength of the Opposition in the city, the Communist think tank decided to deploy not only their conventional weaponry ( booth capturing, intimidation, etc) but also something which can be described as a ?nuclear option?. The same technology which has proved so productive for democracy in the larger India, was distorted by the Marxists in West Bengal to ?win? Kolkata.
First, the basic facts. This was the first time that the West Bengal State Election Commission (WBSEC) used EVMs for a poll under its management. Last month'smunicipal elections in the other parts of the state were conducted using old-fashioned ballot papers and boxes. It must be kept in mind that unlike the Central Election Commission, the State Election Commissions are not independent of the executive in that their heads are always IAS officers from the same state'spool. But, by some Constitutional quirk, the same federal election ombudsman which has gained wide international repute for managing Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, is powerless to intervene when a state election commission performs the role of a loyal dog to the ruling party. An understanding of this basic systemic flaw must form the backdrop of any analysis of June 12 rape of democracy in Kolkata.
The CPI(M) had always faced a problem with putting their well-known rigging technology to work in Kolkata. Unlike in the villages where thousands of people could be intimidated.
When polling commenced at 7 am, hundreds of EVMs in booths across Kolkata simply failed to function. So, for the better part of the morning hours – a period which usually sees the largest turnout – there was no polling at all. Many people left and never came back to check whether the EVMs had been repaired. The secretary of the WBSEC, Kalyan Kumar Chakraborty, later made a surprising disclosure to the local press. He said that in view of the ?unexpected crisis?, it was decided to change all the defective EVMs.
Now, two things are to be noted here. Under the Central Election Commission'srules, each EVM, which is technically a booth, has to be inspected in the presence of the polling agents of all the parties prior to polling day. They are put to use only after all the agents have verified their efficacy and the EVMs are set to zero in their presence. Was this done in Kolkata and Salt Lake ? Obviously not. First of all, the WBSEC does not have such a rule. Secondly, even if there was one, the hasty replacement by a new set of EVMs was highly irregular.
And why didn'tthe EVMs work ? Chakrabarty had the gall to state on record that ?most of the polling officials failed to connect the jack behind the EVMs properly?. This confirms that the state officials (all CPI(M) supporters by virtue of their membership of the CPI-M controlled Coordination Committee of State Government Employees) were not given basic training in the handling of these machines. So why call it an election in the first place?
It also transpires that the EVMs put to work on June 19 were not identical to the ones used by the central Election Commission. Chakraborty revealed that the machines used for this election was different from the ones used in elections held elsewhere in India. ?The jack used for these machines are different from those used in national and Assembly elections. The (public sector) Electronic Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) was contacted and told to supply for future elections only those ones used in national elections to avoid a repeat of the confusion created on Sunday.?
How is it that the WBSEC, which bought 5,000 of these EVMs from ECIL did not verify the technology behind them ? Is this all bureaucratic bungling, or something quite deeper? The ?results? reveal the deeper truth. The ?confusion? was deliberately created so that manipulated EVMs could be issued. And in each of these machines, whichever button the voter pressed, the mandate went, albeit unknown to him, to the CPI(M). The wires had been jinxed in advance to ensure just that.
The booth-wise results of the so-called election will reveal the full extent to which this hoax was carried out. Already, Kolkata'sleading daily, Bartaman, edited by the fearless Barun Sengupta, has started reproducing micro-results which confirm the worst fears of all lovers of democracy. Marxist candidates have got huge leads, sometimes by 90 per cent in the very booths where the EVMs ?broke down?.
What happened in Kolkata on June 19 is a national shame. When will the national intelligentsia wake up and recognise the simple fact that what we are seeing in Marxist West Bengal is nothing but a macabre rape of democracy?
(The author is Senior Editor, The Pioneer)