Eleven Opposition parties, including the Congress, on Saturday resolved to fight against what they called the misuse of electronic voting machines, money power and the media by the BJP-led government at the Centre, claiming it poses the “gravest challenge” to democracy in India. The 11 parties are the Congress, CPIM, SP, BSP, CPI, NCP, TRS, RJD, RLD, Welfare Party and the Swaraj India.
Three resolutions were passed at a conference attended by these parties here. At the conference, they discussed and deliberated at length the challenge of 3Ms — machine, money and media — faced by India’s electoral democracy and unanimously passed the resolutions on them.
The first resolution was on EVM and VVPAT counting in which they said that it is recognised that purely EVM-based voting and counting does not comply with “democracy principles” which require that each voter should be able to verify that his or her vote is cast-as-intended; recorded-as-cast and counted-as-recorded. They claimed electronic voting machines (EVMs) cannot be assumed to be tamper-proof.
“The voting process should be redesigned to be software and hardware independent in order to be verifiable or auditable. The VVPAT (voter verifiable paper audit trail) system should be re-designed to be fully voter-verified. A voter should be able to get the VVPAT slip and cast it in a chip-free ballot box for the vote to be valid and counted, the resolution stated. In the second resolution, the parties stated how massive money power and the criminal muscle-power created thereof is destroying the very integrity of India’s elections.
“Candidates expenses have a ceiling but political party spending does not have any ceiling The fast-rising economic oligarchy in the country threatening India as a welfare state is the direct fallout of this extreme criminal and money power in elections which is the fountainhead of all corruption in the country, they said. The parties claimed that the government, using the Money Bill route to bypass Rajya Sabha, introduced the electoral bond scheme that has increased opaqueness and consolidated the role of big money in electoral politics. The electoral bond scheme in its current form must be immediately discontinued.
The third resolution was on how India’s mediascape has undergone a major transformation with the exponential growth in the use of the internet across the world and also in India. “Unfortunately, communication technologies and media platforms are creating polarization through the circulation of disinformation and hate- filled text posts and tweets. Despite guidelines and codes, ECI (Election Commission of India) has not seemed to be taking cognizance of the many violations in the past elections. ECI failed to curb fake news online before and during these elections, the resolution said.
“Procrastination, silence, and inaction characterised ECI’s responses even to serious violations of Model Code of Conduct and media code. We urge the ECI to take strong and effective actions against the offenders whosoever they may be, according to the resolution. All 11 political parties extended their support to the resolutions.
Congress leader Digvijay Singh said he did not trust EVMs as people couldn’t be sure where their vote went and due to electoral bonds, people did not know where money was going and by unchecked use of money, the BJP was controlling the media and in fact even funding the spread of fake news. He alleged that in many states the BJP was using money power and various agencies, including Enforcement Directorate (ED), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the income tax department, to lure legislators and make governments fall and install its own.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said electoral bonds were smuggled in through the Money Bill route. He said despite multiple legal challenges to it, including one that he filed, the Supreme Court had not decided the matter even though more than three years had passed. He said the time has come for all political parties to join hands and start a Jan Andolan (mass movement) to save democracy.
Singh was quoted in a statement as saying that the way the Election Commission is functioning it has become like the Executive Council rather than an independent constitutional body. CPI leader D Raja said the CPI was in full agreement with the resolutions and had in fact adopted similar resolutions at their recent national party congress.
RLD leader Mairajuddin Ahmed said the role of big money and criminalisation of politics have completely skewed the electoral field. He said today there is open misuse of even bureaucracy. “Selling tickets for money, using criminal elements to intimidate voters is well known and documented and needs to be countered. Such conclaves should be organised at every district in the country, he said.
NCP leader Jitendra Awad said the fight to save democracy has to be on the streets. “EVMs can be manipulated everyone knows – but where will you go for justice? The Supreme Court, the institutions are all compromised. Therefore we have to go to the court of people. Everyone saw how the BJP brought down the Maharashtra government by buying so many MLAs that they stole the whole party itself, but how do we raise a voice when no one is listening. We have to fight much more strongly and take everything to people. He said fascism is at its peak, according to the statement.
TRS leader Suresh Reddy, BSP leader Danish Ali, Ghanshyam Tiwari of the SP, Ilyas of the Welfare Party and Yogendra Yadav of the Swaraj India supported the resolutions. Civil rights activist Aruna Roy spoke on how the issues emerging from the conference can be taken forward.