A clutch of top opposition leaders are planning a maverick move - a joint boycott of the upcoming Karnataka election to pressure the Election Commission to abandon Electronic Voting Machines or EVMS which they claim are being rigged in favour of the BJP.
All buttons pressed for other parties go miraculously to the BJP, claim these leaders. They are still in early negotiations over the proposed boycott. Karnataka has to vote early next year.
The talks include Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Admi Party, Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajawadi Party, Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool, Lalu Yadav of Bihar and Sitaram Yechury of the Left. The party which has the most at stake in Karnataka, the Congress, which currently governs the state, has heard these senior opposition leaders "patiently" but is yet to offer its view on the move.
The conversations so far shrouded in the secrecy of in-person meetings and messages via trusted lieutenants were confirmed to me by one of the principal movers of the idea on the condition of anonymity. He said "If the opposition unitedly tells the Election Commission that we do a joint boycott of the elections, the entire sanctity of the elections is lost. They may then not even take five minutes to go back to paper ballots. This will achieve two important things: the first that the EVMs malfunctioning in favour of the BJP will stop and a level playing field will be created; and second, in a post- EVM election, we can go to the people with a narrative that you can now actually vote for your choice, earlier your vote was being stolen. This will be a morale booster for us. But, it is crucial that the entire opposition come together. Even if one party blinks or baulks, then the 'Brahmastra
' (special weapon) becomes useless."
Left unsaid was the elephant in the room - that the Congress party, now led by Rahul Gandhi as president, will have to be a part of the plan for it to have even a shot at succeeding. The Congress believes it has a good chance at re-election in Karnataka where Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has been countering the BJP challenge effectively by stoking Kannadiga sub-nationalism on contentious issues such as the imposition of Hindi.
The Congress will have to set aside its mistrust of opposition leaders to forge and lead this move. After Nitish Kumar's unexpected defection to the Modi-led NDA, Gandhi is extremely bitter about putative allies. I asked a senior Congress leader about the boycott plan and he answered sarcastically, "We don't trust the EVMs, but we trust the leaders asking us to boycott the Karnataka elections even less. But yes, we are thinking about it as the EVMs are certainly malfunctioning and the Election Commission has not been able to give a credible explanation as to why. The idea is good - but in Karnataka, we (the Congress) have the most to lose."
The recent UP civic election results have given even the most die-hard EVM supporters pause for thought. From Akhilesh Yadav to Mayawati to Sanjay Singh of AAP, it was unanimously said that the BJP won in the places it did because of "rigged EVMs". Yadav tweeted "BJP has won only 15 percent seats in ballot paper areas and 46 percent in EVM areas". Mayawati echoed the allegation and challenged the BJP to win the general election with paper ballots.
Sanjay Singh of AAP told me "We were called sore losers for raising EVM tampering (when AAP lost Punjab) but the UP results bear out our claims. In several places, the EVMs were only casting votes for the BJP. These reports have also come in from civic polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand. If we don't go back to paper ballots, democracy will be finished."
His boss, Arvind Kejriwal, was more circumspect telling me that with AAP registering its presence in UP with a robust number of seats won by a newcomer in last week's civic polls - "a complete surprise" - the party will focus more on the state. He also added "elections need to be fair."(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.