Aditya Sinha: Drama abhi baaki hain

Published: 19 March, 2018 06:21 IST | Aditya Sinha | Mumbai

Conspiracy theorists say the BJP deliberately lost recent bypolls to put all allegations of EVM manipulation to bed before the 2019 elections

Prime Minister Narendra Modi poses for the media with an inked finger
Prime Minister Narendra Modi poses for the media with an inked finger

If Mumbai is the city of dreams, Delhi is the city of whispers. The phus-phus has intensified after the BJP's loss in the three Lok Sabha by-elections last week. These whispers demonstrate the true seismic impact of the by-election results. They also demonstrate how the collective Lutyens' Delhi's mind works, no matter what party runs India.

Least surprising is a rumour that has been in the air the past few months, but is fading of late. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati mentioned it to her cadre last week when she told them to prepare for possible Lok Sabha election in November-December this year, along with four Assembly elections, rather than in May 2019. The justification for this is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah expect their party to fare poorly in the Assembly polls in Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, and are struggling in a neck-and-neck battle in Madhya Pradesh. (Mizoram is also going to polls.) No one wants to face a set of setbacks before contesting the parliamentary election.

Hence the speculation of a simultaneous election. The corollary to this is the buzz that some dramebaazi (as Sonia Gandhi described it to her colleagues at the Congress party's plenary session this weekend) would happen in October: perhaps limited military action against Pakistan, or a snatch of long-wanted fugitive Dawood Ibrahim, or even the return of fraudster-diamantaire Nirav Modi.

Despite Mayawati, this whisper has died down. Now we hear that it is logistically too difficult. Instead there is talk of a March 2019 election, otherwise improbable given that it is the season for school exams (schools are used as polling booths across the country). Frankly, since this government is not famous for consultation - the panna pramukh decides on his own and then word filters out once the people around him get to hear of it - and since Sonia Gandhi has taunted the PM that acchhe din would be the new India Shining (a reference to the UPA's 2004 victory, after AB Vajpayee moved elections up by six months), a May 2019 election seems most likely.

Currently, the hot rumour is that the BJP deliberately lost the recent string of parliamentary by-elections. Two reasons are given for this strange and paranoiac whisper. One, the UP and Bihar by-polls should be seen in conjunction with the Rajasthan by-polls in end-January and the MP by-polls in end-February, all of which the Congress won by defeating the BJP. Modi did not campaign in these by-polls. Also, the urban turnout was low, which means the BJP cadre was indifferent. The inference is that Modi and Shah wanted to teach their chief ministers (and Nitish Kumar) a lesson: that without Modi, they are nothing.

UP's Yogi Adityanath remains recalcitrant, and insists the Gorakhpur loss was a lesson instead to the imperious Amit Shah. Two, there were no allegations about electronic voting machines (EVMs) manipulation, though this technology has been suspect since the 2017 Punjab Assembly election, when the Aam Aadmi Party complained. Technology has globally been a suspect in subverting democracy, most notably in the USA where it is alleged that Russia attempted to influence voters through fake news and social media. In this year's by-polls, there were no allegations of EVM manipulation. How can you complain if you have won?

However, if you watched Doordarshan during the counting last week, you would have seen a focus on one issue: the lack of complaints about EVMs. More than even the lapdog private channels, this aspect was discussed threadbare on the public broadcaster. This was obviously the government line. The whisper is that the ruling party deliberately lost to ensure that when the parliamentary election takes place, no one will be able to credibly allege EVM manipulation, given the track record in 2018. All it takes for this hi-tech form of ballot-stuffing or booth-capturing is that in, say, 2000 polling booths only about 100 need be manipulated in order to influence the electoral outcome. No wonder then, that the Congress party this weekend called for a return to paper balloting.

These whispers could all well be true. The fact is that power and decision-making in Delhi is nowadays tightly wrapped in a single personality. Forget about top bureaucrats, even top politicians close to that personality have little clue about the next decision. (Which is why disillusionment exists within the Cabinet, and why a post-poll scenario is another juicy topic of whispering, fit for an entire column on its own.) Hence every move is dissected and analysed and then passed around. If whispering is a reviled characteristic of Lutyens' Delhi, then it is ironic that Modi, who promised to clean up this citadel of power, has only proven the old adage: the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Aditya Sinha's new book will be out in May. He tweets @autumnshade. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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