The incident of the EVM machine being found in an Assam BJP candidate's car is serious and cannot be dismissed as an isolated incident or resolved with temporary resolutions. The entire set, including the control unit, the ballot unit, the VVPAT machines were taken away in the BJP car. The officials explained that this was because the designated vehicle had broken down. This, however, raises several questions. There are very clear protocols on what should be done if the official vehicle is damaged or broken down; none of them has been followed. When the EC has several other vehicles in their fleet, they found a private one- that too, a BJP vehicle. Strangely, neither the vehicle owner found anything wrong in this, nor did the EC until the people stopped the vehicle for causing traffic disruptions and shot a video and shared it online. The EC maintains that this is an isolated incident and a mistake by a handful of officials. Votes from one booth have been cancelled and the officials suspended. But will this be enough for people to regain trust in the EC?
Recently, there has been increasing apprehensions regarding the unbiased functioning of the Election Commission. Transparency and trust are integral in all the processes of election from fixing dates and counting votes to declaring the results. The number of phases in voting is often disputed. This time, in West Bengal, the election to the 294 constituencies is being held in eight phases. In Assam, elections to the 126 constituencies would be held in three phases. In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the elections to the 140 and 234 constituencies respectively would be held in a single phase of voting. The Commission has reasoned this as means to ensure ease of allotting security forces. However, opposition parties of the BJP haven't digested this wholly. In Bengal, where BJP workers are limited, the eight-phase election process enables the few to be allotted across the state. In Assam, all of upper Assam was covered in the first phase of the elections. Where there was a strong popular sentiment against the citizenship laws, the BJP was silent on it and did not make it part of the election discourse. However, after the voting phase in those parts were over, they used the same for campaigning for the next phase of elections, where people were in support of the same laws. This was made possible because of the technicalities in the polling phases. In 2017, when elections were to happen in Gujarat and Himachal, only dates of Himachal elections were declared. This enabled the BJP government to announce populist plans and policies in Gujarat before the model code of conduct was put in place. The same allegations hold true for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It was similarly controversial that Karnataka's election was postponed after the by-elections were declared.
The Commission has lost its earlier vigilance about violations of the code of conduct. An example is Narendra Modi's use of the military to make capital out of the Balakot attack. Despite the fact that the district and state officers had reported Modi's statement that every vote for him would be a vote fot the forces as a violation, the Central Election Commission ignored that. In the current election again, no action has been taken against Modi who is leading the code violations. The 2019 launching of 'NaMo TV' was a blatant infringement of election code. Further, there is the criticism that the Commission's interventions in the matter of election rules were also in favour of the BJP. There was a provision that a polling agent in a booth has to be a voter in that booth and this has now been amended. For, in Bengal it was the BJP that had the need to bring in agents from other booths when the party did not have ground workers in the first. As a testimony of this allegation, TMC has cited as proof a telephone conversation of BJP leader Mukul Roy with another leader Shishir Bajoria in which Roy was heard suggesting that the Election Commission had to be made to change the rule regarding polling agent.
Suspicions about voting machines still remain. Though the technology is available to install fool-proof VVPAT machines in all places, there are no attempts for that. Allegations are yet to be cleared about EVM's showing more votes than actually polled by voters. Appointments to the Election Commission are under the Centre's control. What the outcome of incurring the displeasure of the government will be, is borne out by the experience of senior Commissioner Ashok Lavasa who had to resign. On the whole, the credibility of elections is becoming doubtful. And to regain that, minor actions will not do.