January 15, 2006

West Bengal's "revolutionary" rigging machinery to be countered by EC

Rigged voters' list may delay poll

Udayan Namboodiri/ Kolkata


The Election Commission (EC)'s special team of observers now scouring the voters' lists of West Bengal through field studies of unprecedented intensity, may well end up recommending a fresh enumeration exercise. That would imply a delay in holding the election scheduled for May because door-to-door compilation of names followed by verification is a time-consuming exercise.






The team, which landed here on January 8, was supposed to have completed its work in a week and submitted a report by January 18. But, owing to the large-scale discrepancies detected, the 17-member team has been forced to extend its stay in the State till January 24. The observers - one for each district - have been working round-the-clock in the business of verifying names and checking out complaints received from different political parties and NGOs about bogus voters and Bangladeshis.



From the statements already made by the EC observers to the regional media and their body language, one thing is clear: The desperate conditions prevailing in West Bengal demands a desperate solution. When, for instance, KJ Rao, the hero of Bihar, saw for himself the booth-wise results of the Chakdah Assembly segment in the 2004 Parliamentary election and, before that the 2002 Parliamentary by-election, his eyes literally popped out. In many booths, the CPI (M)'s candidate had "won" all the votes without losing even one to the combined Opposition.



"How is this possible?" he said out aloud. "This means that even the agents of the Opposition parties could not vote".



The Marxist candidate had "polled" up to 1,100 votes in most booths over a 540-minute period - something unheard of anywhere in India. In just 35 booths under one Assembly segment of the wider Nabadwip constituency, he had secured a lead of 25, 246 votes. When Rao went to the adjoining Haringhata segment, he was stunned by what he saw. The Marxist had "captured" 25, 216 of the 28,334 votes "polled" in an equal number of booths.



Only one thing explains this. Large scale booth capturing marked by forced absence of genuine voters and zealous participation in the rigging process by the administration. Wherever Rao went, he heard people complaining how they had been "persuaded" to stay in their homes on the day of the election. One villager told this correspondent: "When we see the administration colluding with the ruling party, all our hopes vanish. Why should I die for the right to vote?"



Fear is the key in West Bengal. In Kholadighorui village under Thupsura block of Hooghly district, the people who poured their hearts out to another EC observer, N Shaivasalam, were attacked on the night of January 11 by CPI (M) cadre. One Akram Midda, who had told the observer that somebody else had been casting his vote for the past nine years, was made special target. He was beaten up and his hut damaged.



The news of the incident has spread all over the State. In many places, the EC's teams are now finding it difficult to get people to talk to them. Though the CPI (M) officially maintains its willingness to cooperate with the EC - even conceded the existence of "bogus" voters - the Opposition is not conceded. Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee told The Pioneer: "The EC has never worked so sincerely in any State except Jammu and Kashmir and Bihar. They are now seeing for themselves the farcical nature of Bengal's democracy".



The fear factor undermines even the enumeration process. Everybody in Bengal knows that as long as State Government officials are deployed to write the lists there can be no end to the fiction. The Opposition's workers may also be terrorised into submission. Objection forms filed by individuals and parties end up in the trash bins because the BDOs and SDOs are all with the ruling party. Under such abnormal conditions, the redrafting of a list of some 40 million voters using non-State Government employees may take up to six months.



Since the term of the present State Assembly expires mid-May, the political parties here are expecting a spell of President's rule. While the EC's observers are tight-lipped about the possibility, the huge surge of expectation that their good work has generated in the population stands to be nullified if such an eventuality is not forced. Rao, who left his work mid-way to attend a family function in Chennai on January 13, said he would return to his allotted district, Nadia, for more spot inspections. "I will not speculate on what my final recommendation would be", he told this correspondent.



Still, the EC is understood to be mulling over several novel steps to defeat the CPI (M)-administration nexus which always results in widespread rigging and awesome "majorities" to the Left Front. These include:



* Staggering the West Bengal election: holding it in three or four phases ;



* Ensuring that the Presiding Officer in each booth is an outsider to the State in keeping with the recommendation made by the Special Observer for the 2004 election, Afzal Amanullah, that a "Bengali speaking" official from a neighbouring State be brought in;



* Deploying ex-servicemen living in West Bengal and Central Government staff to work under the Presiding Officers ;



* Barring State police personnel from poll duty through large-scale import of central paramilitary forces ;



* Doing away with the age-old practice of keeping the Central forces and polling officials under the administrative control of the State Government's SDOs and BDOs.



In short, a "counter-revolution" may be on the cards to intercept the Left Front's "revolutionary" rigging machinery

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