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Elections 2024 | How are Lawbreakers Acting With Such Impunity and Arrogance?

The offenders are encouraged by the fact that the Election Commission does not respond quickly enough to complaints.

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In a widely circulated video, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate from Hyderabad, Madhavi Latha, is seen checking the identification cards of voters (who are Muslim women) in one of the booths. Another video shows the Nizamabad BJP candidate browbeating election officials.

Such incidents show how the Election Commission (EC) has failed to deter defaulters, most of whom belong to the BJP. Incidentally, most of these offences have occurred in BJP-ruled states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh.

Indeed, these lawbreakers feel encouraged by the apparent inaction of the Election Commission.
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There Have Been Far Too Many Incidents

Strong action was necessary against the son of BJP leader Vijay Bhabhor, who hijacked the polling booth in Dahod, Gujarat, and live-streamed the entire incident on social media on 7 May during the third phase of the elections. Bhabhor reportedly even abused the officials and cast bogus votes.

In the viral video, he is seen praising the BJP, saying "machine apne baap nu che (the machine belongs to my father)." Vijay and the polling agent of the BJP have reportedly been arrested. The Election Commission ordered a re-poll after a full two days when the incident was widely reported by local media and then went viral on social media.

Another video, again from the third phase, shows the son (a minor) of a Panchayat leader from Bhopal, belonging to the BJP, casting a vote in place of his father, while the BJP leader recorded the entire process on his phone. It is quite shocking that the polling officials not only allowed him to carry his mobile phone inside the booth (in violation of the relevant instructions) but also to record the voting process.

Moreover, how was the child allowed inside the polling booth and allowed to cast the vote? Reportedly, the Presiding Officer has been suspended by the concerned District Collector and an FIR has been lodged against the BJP leader.

In another incident from the second phase which happened on 26 April, whose video has been widely circulated, the BJP MLA from Rajasthan's Shergarh, Baburam Rathore, along with a dozen of his supporters, is seen behaving aggressively and threatening the BSF (Border Security Force) personnel deployed outside a booth. The BSF officers were tasked with ensuring orderliness amongst voters while they waited for their turn to cast their votes. It is important to note that the election commission guidelines clearly provide that no unauthorised person can enter the booth and interfere with the election process.

But it can be clearly seen in the video that the said BJP MLA doesn’t stop after misbehaving, abusing, and threatening the BSF personnel outside the booth. He storms into the booth along with many of his supporters and gets into an argument with the booth-in-charge who stands up to him and asks him to go out of the booth and not interfere with the election process.

Had the BSF personnel not maintained their calm and displayed extraordinary self–restraint, the situation could have turned quite ugly. Given the provocative behaviour of the MLA, the officers deployed at the booth would have been well within their authority to use force. The polling-in-charge also displayed moral courage and firmness by not getting overawed by the MLA, forcing the latter to beat a hasty retreat. The BSF has filed an FIR at the relevant police station.

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Offenders Are Encouraged by the EC's Inaction

All the above incidents are clear-cut cases of interference and those involved must be booked for these offenses. Besides, poll officers, wherever found complicit, should be thoroughly investigated and given exemplary punishment immediately if found guilty, in order to deter others from indulging in such malpractices in the upcoming phases of voting.

Is it a coincidence that most of these incidents have been reported from BJP-ruled states and all these offenders owe their allegiance to BJP? The impunity and arrogance that the two BJP candidates put on full display emanate from their sanguinity that they will get full protection from their party. However, the easy availability of mobile phones and the ability of social media to quickly disseminate information far and wide prevented that from happening.

It is not that there have been no attempts in the past to influence the electoral process using threats and allurements, nor are these practices unique to India. Politicians have always tried to intimidate poll officers to bend the rules. However, what is different in the aforementioned incidents is the sense of entitlement displayed by the offenders; the arrogance, the aggressive body language, and the repeated assertions of belonging to BJP or being an MLA from the party. These incidents are indicative of the deteriorating standards of democratic practices in India.

As stated above, the offenders are encouraged by the fact that the Election Commission does not respond quickly enough to complaints. It does not initiate measures to prevent these offences from happening again.

An example is the offensive advertisement of the BJP in Karnataka which the EC directed social media platform X (formerly Twitter) to delete, but only after polling in the state was over! The Model Code of Conduct has become an absolute mockery, with the EC maintaining a conspicuous silence, especially by the big guns of the ruling party. Hate speeches and the misuse of religion are tactics now brazenly resorted to.

An additional issue of concern for the public at large is the continued suspicion of the correctness of EVMs. Unfortunately, the election commission has not (at least publicly) initiated any action in several reported cases of EVM malfunction, which coincidentally seem to favour only one party.

All this doesn’t augur well for the future of the largest democracy in the world. The EC must act proactively to curb malpractices irrespective of the political party involved. India, perhaps, needs another TN Seshan to set things right and put the fear of God amongst our politicians.

(Sanjiv Krishan Sood (Retd) has served as the Additional Director General of the BSF and was also with the SPG. He tweets @sood_2. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Paatal Lok 

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