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UP Polls 2022- An open letter to the Chief Election Commissioner

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To the Chief Election Commissioner of India

Sir,

As one of the vast numbers of citizens who want elections in the country to be free and fair I am taking the liberty to draw your attention to the ongoing polls in the state of Uttar Pradesh and about a few critical issues relating thereto..

While the country bears sense of deep gratitude to you, the other two commissioners, high level officials and your other staff for carrying out the onerous task of conducting successive elections in states, your establishment does not seem to be adequately cognizant of a newly emerging trend. It is about some political parties trying in calculated manner to subvert the electoral process to their advantage in unfair and unconstitutional manners.

The chief instrument for gaining this end seems to be creating fear psychosis in voters. They are seen using threat, intimidation and violence against the voters of their rival parties with a view to scare and coerce them to vote in their favour or face consequences if they come to power. These processes mostly happen in subterranean levels to avoid attention of the EC officials. If unchecked, these assume overt form.  

Though your officials have control over the state bureaucracy during the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) phase, they are often ignorant of the local dynamics and they fail to understand how this ‘psychology of fear’ demoralises voters and influence their voting behaviour. They are dependent on media to track these evils and the organs of the state bureaucracy to tackle them. If these assistance are not available, no steps are taken. This gives a ‘toothless image’ of the EC officials in voters’ mind and aggravates their sense of insecurity. This is precisely the new challenge that your establishment is faced with today. Its viciousness grows due to politicisation of both the media and sections of bureaucracy.  

EC’s actions against errant political parties have mostly been benign and superficial like issue of show cause notices, warning, stay over one or two rallies or banning a leader from taking part in meetings for few days. Needless to say that such measures are small price to pay for these parties compared to the huge illegitimate electoral benefits they can potentially reap by scaring and coercing voters.

Let us take an example of a bomb attack on the home of a rival party worker or supporter causing grievous physical injury to him or his family members. It is important to recognize that one single incident of this type can demoralise voters in the whole constituency, scare them and influence their voting behaviour. A FIR, or even arrest  of few persons cannot return their confidence in full. Therefore you must pre-empt such happenings at the first place if you want to ensure a proper environment for free and fair voting.

The elections for the state assembly of West Bengal May last year deserve special mention in this context. Going by spates of social media reports  a large part of the election process after the state was brought under MCC was marked by violence which continued for days together even after poll results were declared. These were directed against supporters of the main opposition party in the state. As you are aware, these  allegations were vindicated by series of tweets of the Guv of the state and also the orders of the Hon High Court of Calcutta ordering CBI and SIT to investigate into hundreds of cases relating to post poll violence in the state. What may be of particular concern to you is the fact that many instances of violence occurred during the MCC period before the elected government took oath.

The common citizens of India do not know if you have done a post mortem of what had gone wrong with the handling of assembly polls in that state. But it will be very sad to see a somewhat similar template spanning out in UP and trying to interfere with the process of a completely free and fair election in the state.

The reason for writing this open letter to your esteemed office is to draw your urgent attention to some worrying developments in UP after the onset of the MCC. Unlike West Bengal the ruling party in UP seems to be the victim of the machinations by its rivals. We never urge you to protect members of this or that party but the voters of Uttar Pradesh in general and thereby the larger cause of democracy. No party, whether ruling or opposition, should be given the leeway to scare the voters!

What adds to citizens’ concern in UP is the role of media. A perception is growing amongst the public that the media covering the state polls has been working overtime to spread misinformation to sway voter opinion. It is seemingly misusing the liberty available in democracy. As part of that design it is trying to hide the all-round progress that happened in the state over last 5 years from the public gaze and degrade this election on communal and caste lines. Few of them are consciously projecting dubious opinion polls to create a doubt in public mind about the return of the ruling party. As if in a nexus, riding piggyback on such media speculation, some political parties in the opposition are trying to infuse fear and confusion in voters’ mind.  

It is disconcerting that series of incidents of threat, intimidation and violence have been happening in Uttar Pradesh after the state was brought under the Model Code of Conduct directives on January 8, 2022. Violence has been increasingly gripping the state particularly over last few weeks. It seems as if a hell has been let loose over the state! This is in stark contrast to the pre-MCC period under Yogi government when law and order was impeccable and unruly elements never dared to show up their faces.

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While most of these violent activities are taking place at subterranean level, some incidents are still making headlines. Few specific instances as reported in media are brought to your kind attention.

Sri Ramveer Singh, the proposer of the ruling party candidate L N Chaudhary in the Chhata, Mathura constituency was shot dead on January 29th. On February 5, the convoy of BJP star campaigner Babita Phogat was allegedly attacked by SP-RLD worker. On February 8, the convoy of BJP candidate viz, Sahendra Ramala was attacked near RLD office at Chhaprauii, Baghpat. On February 11, five youths in GB Nagar (NOIDA) were brutally assaulted for sharing a social media post in favour of the ruling party BJP. On February 13, Harendra Kumar, the BJP candidate contesting from the Asmoli constituency, Sambhal was allegedly attacked by SP workers near Kherni police outpost.  Stones were pelted on the car of Geeta Sakya, the president of the ruling party’s Mahila Morcha in Kotwali area of Mainpuri on February 14. Two days later on February 16, the convoy of S P S Baghel, an Union Minster, who is contesting against Akhilesh Yadav at Karhal constituency, was attacked in Mainpuri area. Even as such violent incidents keep happening, the leaders of main opposition party have been threatening on several occasions the voters and even the administration about consequences they will face after they come to power following the polls. In a twitter post, the SP candidate in Shahjahanpur was heard threatening that Brahmin and Thakur would be lynched (dauda daudakar marenge) if his party came to power!

These are sending ominous signal. Time is ticking away. Unless you urgently deal with the situation with iron hands, voters will be unduly influenced in their participation in the voting process and impact this extremely important election.

We had earlier brought to your notice how tasks for the EC have changed in recent years. In this connection it becomes useful to compare challenges facing the Election Commission of India under TN Seshan’s leadership with those over the last few years. In his era, besides administrative loopholes the major challenges mostly centred around the large scale malpractices resorted to by some political parties in or around the days of voting. Those included use of muscle power, intimidating voters from reaching booth, booth capturing, and so on. TN Seshan had used the powers that were already available to ECI in ways none of his predecessors did to break the nexus between unholy political elements and criminals. He became a legend!

The challenges in recent years as already pointed out are subtler and more vicious. This is so because of suspected role played by the media in many cases through their silence or political bias. The malpractices usually unfold  few months ahead of the election by attempting to overpower the voters psychologically. The instruments are intimidation, threat, and violence- covert or overt or both. This process reaches a peak during the MCC period. Therefore even though the election verdict becomes questionable, the whole process is socially legitimised by media through their typical headlines such as ‘voting was peaceful but for a few scattered incidents’. In rare cases, the EC orders repolling in few booths. There lies the end of the matter. While some unholy political parties lifts the victory trophy, the soul of democracy is left in the ICU struggling for life.

If we want democracy to survive in the country, this nexus needs to be broken urgently. To the evil-intentioned political forces the rewards for winning election are huge. It gives them almost unbridled access to power over every section of the society in addition to country’s vast resources including money and wealth. If the EC does not apply strong deterrents on their diabolical strategies to psychologically weaken the voters, the contesting of election can potentially degenerate to the level of ‘organized crime’.

Time has given you another historic responsibility to tackle the new challenges and we Indians fervently wish you to engage with that task without losing time. It is to your great advantage that you can count on the government at the centre and the vast resources of the country, whether human or material, to your avail. By the way India is fifth largest economy and also fifth largest military power in the world. Of what use are the country’s resources if the electoral process is not protected in full measure against every possible form of attacks by vested interests. After all, protecting the electoral process from the internal enemies of democracy is as important as protecting the country’s borders against external enemies!

To conclude, may we draw your preferred attention back to UP polls. You have spread the poll schedule over seven phases considering the sensitive nature of the situation. By the time this letter reaches you the third phase would be over. Clearly those have been vitiated by threats, intimidation and violence as already described. The nation will be grateful if the next phases are handled with iron fists so that the voters can cast their votes with a completely free and unbiased mind.  

With profound regards,

A common citizen of India

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