Amidst attempts to drag the country to dictatorship on the back of power in hand, Kerala surged way ahead in the commitment to reinvent the country through democratic rights, as evinced in the high polling percentage in the state.
When the politically enlightened Kerala flowed to polling booths, what came in display on 23 April was the highest rate of polling in the last three decades – 77.78 per cent, with Kannur leading the tally with 83.05 per cent, and Thiruvananthapuram standing lowest at 73.45 per cent. Even in the latter the polling rate was 5 per cent higher than last Lok Sabha election. This time, with voting machine snags hitting all over, polling got extended late into the night. Amidst all this, what Kerala's high polling rate ilustrated this time, as different from previous elections, is that exercising one's franchise has been taken up by Malayalis as a binding imperative on the citizen. They seemed determined that the tendency of using power to annihilate democratic structure and institutions cannot be allowed any more. Thus what sent the voters en masse to polling booths was a determination not to succumb to the arrogant threat by the current ruling class - and the resultant apprehension - that this may be the last election. People everywhere were sharing calls via social media to use the ballot as a weapon for the existence of democracy and the country. Such wave spurred by a creative political insight was visible across Kerala, more than what any political leader could do. An experience every patriotic Malayali can be proud of.
Even as voters pulled all stops for the festival of democracy, it has to be admitted that the snags in the conduct of elections disappointed many. In a small state with just 20 constituencies, it was the failure to ensure a flawless facility for people to vote in comfort that resulted in polling being dragged until midnight. The authorities were not equipped to reciprocate the voters' enthusiasm that started right from dawn. In the booth of Adoor in Pathanamthitta where 843 voters had cast votes, the machine showed only 840, and in Thimiri in Kasargode, it was 953 as against the actual of 943. In a constituency where only nine candidates contested, the machine was showing 11 names. In Pattom, Thiruvananthapuram and Panmana, Kollam, complaints arose that the name of the candidate voted was not what appeared in the VVPAT machine. When the complainants were not able to prove it, they were arrested but later released on bail. Still, one of them stuck to his complaint. In Kollam, near Koyilandi, machines had to be changed three times for various reasons. Overall, in several districts faulty machines turned villain of the piece.
Complaints about electronic voting machines are still rampant even into the third phase of polling. There is an uneasy coincidence too that most of the glitches were found to be in favour of the ruling party, BJP. Although in view of such problems, Opposition parties and public interest litigants had approached the Election Commission, and later the court, to either revert to the earlier paper ballot, or put half of the votes for VVPAT scrutiny, the pleas came to be of no avail. In the light of the Opposition allegation regarding the magic of all votes getting cast for Lotus, regardless of the voted candidate, EC had convened the entire Opposition to give an outright denial of the allegation. But the parties opposed it decrying it as a pre-programmed plan and did not proceed further either due to lack of conviction or with a sense of propriety not to impair the stature of constitutional institutions. Even on Tuesday, citing the incidents in Kerala, the Opposition in one voice came out against the technical in the EVMs. They even raised a concern that the faults if left unrectified may overturn the general consensus of the country that Modi government has to be removed. They have again approached the Supreme Court demanding examination of at least 50 per cent of the VVPAT slips. But the Commission has been giving the word of comfort that in places where the EVMs went faulty, VVPAT will be examined. It is yet to be seen to what extent that will be put in effect.
There were many instances of voters – even those who had voted in the last assembly elections – being forced to return due to their names not appearing in the voters' list. And exceeding that was the number of voters who had to give up because polling getting delayed indefinitely. Then, who will make good their right to vote? When the government makes extensive publicity for creating awareness about voting and yet the voter's democratic right cannot be exercised, who will answer for it? The diligence shown by the Election Commission to bridle the campaign and political parties crossing the red lines, lost all its lustre when it came to the conduct of the polls. This is a spectacle of the election machinery itself damaging voting rights, as commented by a body working for reforms in the area. If the faults in polling administration cannot be solved, democratic experiments will become absurd and ridiculous. In an atmosphere in which systematic attempts are being made to strangulate democracy, the means and tools to protect it at any cost need to be made precise and robust.