VIVEK SHARMA on FaceBook
If elections have been called the ‘dance of Indian democracy’, the number staged in Mewat recently could well be one of the most vulgar yet. Evidently, the Executive has done the tango with the choreographers. The question now is: will the dance break records at the box-office or will it crash?
Last week Mewat demonstrated at the hustings how a people could be swindled in front of the half-shut eyes of the world’s largest democratic state. Beyond the squeaky clean Nirvachan Sadan on Ashoka Road, the supra-institution of the electoral process flounders in muddy waters. Its grassroots representative, the presiding officer on the last polling outpost, is conceivably either a stooge of the system or just too afraid of it. Mewat stands testimony.
Even in this day and age, women did not cast their vote in Mewat. Why not? The argument forwarded by one of the ostensibly independent election observers of the Gurgaon Parliamentary constituency – after the AAP team made their complaint – was, they are politically blind. After all, through the mustard-wheat harvest season in Mewat which coincided with the elections on April 10, the women worked in the fields while the men smoked hookahs and sipped on chai discussing politics. Women harvested, tended the cattle, ran the hearths, and raised the long train of children born to them practically every other year. With a life so busy where is the time to exercise their most basic right of casting their vote?
But in fact, not only did women not vote – nor did the youth, the poor and all those placed lower in the social pecking order. And the reason is simple. They did not vote because were physically prevented from reaching the polling stations. There were no orderly queues outside stations, contrary to what the media and the Commission will have us believe. Thondas – a local expression for political goons-cum-opinion makers – the grey-bearded, turbaned, tough-hides sitting around chowks under the famous ’Hookah Huts’, reminiscent of the Haryana Khap Panchayats, decided who will vote, and who will not. AAP’s strength has been youth and women. In the run-up to elections, the party was able to raise a cadre of idealistic young people in Mewat as well. These comprised mostly young Meo men who aspired to change the system. But on D-day these young people were forcibly set aside. Even a founder-member of AAP in Mewat was not allowed to cast his vote. His uncle ordered the young man to pack his bags of idealism and shove them in a corner. The senior worthy then reportedly took on the onerous task of casting the young man’s vote in favour of the INLD candidate Zakir Hussain.
How they managed it all is simple. The administration shut its eyes. The poll duty staff colluded or was coerced into submission. And then, voting took place ex parte, latth bajaa ke as the Meo men of Mewat proudly put it. Incredible, as India stands on the cusp of selecting its 16th Lok Sabha!
AAP candidate from Gurgaon, Yogendra Yadav, who complained to the CEC about rigging in 110 polling stations, appears to have under-played the issue only because the party doesn’t have enough evidence for the rest. It is not merely a case of rigging. Practically all of Mewat has cases of large-scale booth-capturing. AAP in Gurgaon did not have its outreach in this region unlike in the Delhi assembly elections when its volunteers mapped almost every booth, constituency and voters’ ghettos. Prashant Bhushan is spot on when he says, “AAP is stretched.”
But surely the Election Commission is not stretched, not with its vast human resources, constitutional powers and wisdom. It must do in the Gurgaon Lok Sabha seat what is usually done in any election where a candidate in the running dies – countermand the election.
In the last fortnight, while AAP youth and women volunteers went door to door exhorting women to vote and the youth to take charge, one wondered why the Opposition campaign was non-existent, Now we know – the Opposition simply relied on its Thondas.
There are many similar stories about BJP’s legions of goons raised over generations in the Ahirwaal area of the Gurgaon parliamentary constituency. Dalits, Chamaars, Balmikis and Mians are not allowed to vote. Their vote is cast by the wrestlers whose milk-ghee supplies are delivered through the toil of the women at work.
The Election Commission needs to hold an independent inquiry and, if necessary, countermand the elections or at least suspend the Mewat leg of the election. Here is a fine opportunity to make an example of contestants using the thondas-goondas across the country. The message should go out loud and clear – no one can hold the Indian democracy to ransom, that the era of such politics is over and that contests will have to be clean, clear and participative for all aspirants of politics.
Meanwhile, the administrative machinery led by the Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Police of Mewat should be suspended. It is hard to believe that booth after booth was without the cops at work. And if they were around, they just looked the other way in deference to the oral caveat of the political masters to swing the poll.
An inquiry will reveal:
(a) widespread rigging
(b) counterfeit polling
(c) collusion of polling staff
(d) absence of police or paramilitary
(e) women’s votes polled by others
(f) presiding officers indulging in bogus voting and
(g) two poll-clash deaths in Punhana.
A random sample check for poll-mark on voters’ fingers will provide sufficient evidence of the mockery made of these elections. Having said that, one can’t put it past the district administration to go door-to-door inking fingers! The pace of a time-bound inquiry is, therefore, of essence.
On the day of polling, booth agents were either threatened or bribed – 1000 rupees goes a long way – and turned away from polling stations. There were cases where the Thondas pressed EVM buttons multiple times, sometimes 50-100 times. There are voice clips on Facebook of a Presiding Officer arriving at an ‘appropriate’ number of votes to be polled to each party. Of course, 70 per cent were secured for the INLD.
A Superintendent of Police, who has settled in Mewat after retirement, said this was possibly the worst breakdown of law and order in Haryana that he had witnessed in his career.
As mandated by the Election Commission, AAP volunteers carried three Rs 2 coins in their booth-agent kits in case they needed to file a complaint to the presiding officer. Shopkeepers were clearly amused as the coins were collected in Ferozepur Jhirka town. Their smiles, obviously, came from experience. There was no way these coins were going to find a use. In hindsight, AAP and its supporters may have fought the elections like a group of amateurs.
Mewat here presents an excellent opportunity for the democratic phoenix to rise yet again from the ashes of electoral fraudulence. An Election Commission-led injunction based on a zero-tolerance principle would go a long way to strengthen the democratic process. Countermanding the Gurgaon parliamentary seat, or at least suspending the Mewat leg of polling after a thorough inquiry will go a long way to cleanse the elections of Thonda-Giri, violence and the exercise of illicit power in elections.
Post script: Mewat is a basket case – a most unusual dark zone less than 100 km away from Delhi. A society gone into disrepair with all modern human development indices at its lowest. The author has faith that democracy plays out somewhat better than here, in other parts of the country.
Vivek Sharma is Program Director, Gandhi Fellowship Program Kaivalya Education Foundation