In Andhra Pradesh when polling opened early in the morning on April 11, reports started pouring in that there were innumerable complaints of EVM machines not functioning properly. Within the first hour itself, as many as 4,343 EVMs were said to have gone out of order.
The Election Commission seemingly acted swiftly and sent so-called computer engineers to repair or replace faulty EVMs.
TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu has publicly posed the following questions to the Election Commission:
* Who are these people you sent?
*How did you choose them and entrust them with such a sensitive task while voting had already started ?
* Were they private individuals or authorized personnel hired in advance.
*What are their qualifications? Who appointed them and how were they vetted?
*Do State Electoral Officers have the powers to make such appointments?
*What is the guarantee that these individuals did not manipulate the EVMs in the name of repair?
With voting in his home State of Andhra Pradesh having been completed, Telugu Desam leader Chandrababu Naidu has become Campaigner-At-Large in the ‘fight to save democracy’.
It is a fight that Naidu is taking very seriously. He has made his agenda clear - to do whatever he can to ensure that the next Prime Minister is someone other than Narendra Modi.
‘My goal is to get Special Category Status for Andhra Pradesh, he keeps repeating, and that objective can never be fulfilled if the outgoing NDA government under Modi comes back to power. Therefore, my single-point programme is to help all the parties that have put up candidates against the BJP anywhere in the country,” he has been saying.
That is how Chandrababu’s mind works. He keeps his eyes on a single target and prepares a strategy that is simple, straightforward and shorn of all confusing distractions and dilemmas. His aim is Modi Hatao. Having identified that intent, he has devised a strategy to optimise the probability of achieving that goal.
But Chandrababu Naidu is not a naïve politician afflicted with a tunnel vision. It is not for nothing that he has been in active politics for 35 years and that too as the longest-serving chief minister of Undivided Andhra and also the first chief minister of newly-carved-out Residual Andhra. He has enjoyed triumphs and endured defeats. He has been hailed in international circles as the “man who transformed an impoverished backwater State into India’s Information Technology hub in just five years” and he has been on the cover of Time magazine as “South Asian of the Year”.
Today, all those past glories will turn to ashes unless his party does well in the 2019 elections. Unlike the rest of India, in Andhra Pradesh it was a double barrel exercise, with simultaneous voting for all the Assembly and Parliament seats. All on one single, action packed, traumatic day, Thursday, April 11.
That day has ended. It is all over except for the counting of votes – five to six weeks later. The earlier opinion surveys had indicated a decisive win for the Telugu Desam. But the latest surveys are claiming that his main rival Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR congress party may pip him to the post in a photo-finish.
Defeat is a prospect that is maddening for Naidu to even think about. He has been in the election game too long not to know how to read the signs and measure the mood of the voters and the under-currents at play. Is it possible for the TDP to lose power in the State and get fewer Lok Sabha seats than YSR congress?
Chandrababu Naidu knows that it is not only possible but is probably what is going to be the outcome. It is highly likely that he may emerge as the loser on Counting Day. He also knows why and how. The elections have been manipulated.
Right under his nose, votes were stolen from him. He could see it happening, he could sense it was happening but there was nothing that he could have done to prevent it from happening. Nor does he have any proof that it happened -all he has is circumstantial evidence that a very clever game was played on Thursday, April 11 and he was outsmarted by forces much more cunning and clever than him.
Chandrababu Naidu could have sulked in silence or thrown a tantrum. But like Lord Krishna in the Telugu translation of the Mahabharata, he knew he had to work out a strategy that could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
So, he has decided to step out to other States where voting will take place in the remaining six phases. He will offer to guide the chariot for all the Arjunas of the Opposition parties who are fighting to defeat the arrogant Duryodhana of modern politics.
He will alert them about the clever new ways in which voters are being kept away from the polling booths and voting machines are being accessed by unknown persons on the pretext that they are malfunctioning and need to be repaired.
The Telugu Desam president’s first salvo has already been fired. Unusually for him, he has used the strongest possible language in his post-poll press conference. He has described the election office as a “branch office of the BJP”. He has charged the Election Commission of failing to conduct free and fair voting in Andhra Pradesh.
“I have never seen such an institution in my four decades of political life. The Commission is toothless. The organisation once run by people like T N Seshan has become a puppet in the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi”. He added: “I will fight it through all legal platforms and expose what is being done. I will try to alert other Opposition leaders and suggest ways to prevent it from being done elsewhere”.
The practical first step is for Naidu to file a Review Petition in the Supreme Court for increasing the number of VVPATs for counting. Even though the apex court has just directed the Election Commission to verify five VVPATs in each Assembly segment, the TDP petition will plead that the random sample size for verification of paper trail should be much bigger.
Meanwhile, Naidu has persuaded all concerned parties to revive the demand for paper ballot system with more vigour. This would be symbolic but it would arouse public awareness. Also, he would stage a dharna - if necessary, in front of Nirvachan Sadan to protest and highlight the failure to conduct smooth elections.
Naidu has also charged the Commission of exercising its abnormal powers in arbitrarily transferring the state Chief Secretary, Intelligence Chief, three Superintendents of Police and several police officials, without any rational explanation.