Headquarters of the Election Commission in New Delhi | Manisha Mondal/ThePrint
Headquarters of the Election Commission in New Delhi | Representational image | Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
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New Delhi: Ahead of the Bihar assembly elections scheduled in October-November, opposition parties are upset with the Election Commission’s (EC) new postal ballot move.

The EC last week announced it would allow voters aged 65 years and above as well as those under institutional or home quarantine to cast their votes through postal ballot papers. It said the expansion of the postal ballot ambit was done in order to ensure the Covid pandemic does not hurt the voter turnout.

But, at least five parties — Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), CPI, CPI(M) and Trinamool Congress (TMC) — have raised concerns over the move, with some of them terming it “unconstitutional”.

CPI general secretary D. Raja wrote to the EC Monday, saying the move “will lead to malpractices and foul play by those parties, which are in power and having resources”.

Last week, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury had opposed the move, saying it was “disturbing”, while the Congress approached the EC on 3 July, arguing the rule “violates secrecy in voting as a large segment of the population is uneducated and they might seek assistance from others at numerous stages, ending up disclosing their preferred candidate”.

Also read: Bihar poll officer suggests toothpicks for voting, khadi gloves in booths in state elections

‘Malpractice could lead to dramatic shift in poll results’

The opposition also seems to be worried about the fact that any malpractice with the postal ballot votes of older people, who tend to ‘vote against the BJP’, would lead to a dramatic shift in the overall election results.

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“If you look at the voting patterns, the BJP banks more on younger and more digitally savvy-people, who can momentarily buy into its propaganda on social media. The older ones wouldn’t fall for it as easily,” Yechury told ThePrint.

“The older people have lived through the Emergency. They will be more averse to the propaganda we are witnessing today. They value the fight for democracy and are better placed to have a more historical perspective,” Yechury said. 

“And so, if these votes, that are expected to go against the BJP, are tinkered, then it will have a major impact on the outcome,” he added.

65+ age group an ‘important vote bank’ for opposition

The Congress last week wrote a petition to the EC, claiming postal ballots will “expose a high percentage of voters to organised administrative influence or influence by the government or the ruling party”.

Arguing that the rate of rejection of postal ballots has been close to 20 per cent, the party, in its petition had said: “This 20 per cent margin of error, once applied to the votes cast by electors of 65 years and above, is enough to completely change the outcome of any election.”

Opposition leaders also said the age group that is being allowed to vote via postal ballots is an “important vote bank”, especially in the time of coronavirus, and, therefore, they can’t allow any “foul play” with their votes.

“The NDA government’s handling of coronavirus in Bihar has been despicable. It is the older people and those who are infected from the virus would be particularly angry about this. It’s an important vote bank for us, and we cannot afford to sit back and allow any foul play in their votes,” a senior Bihar Congress leader told ThePrint. 

The Bihar government has been criticised for its low Covid testing levels, which is the lowest among 19 states, according to the NITI Ayog.  

“In the previous elections, the BJP has done well in the postal ballots votes. That combined with the fear of malpractice in the 65+ voter base is cause for worry,” a senior RJD leader said.

TMC general secretary Subrata Bakshi also pointed out that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and at least 13 chief ministers are above the age of 65. 

“They will surely find themselves in an absurd situation where they can campaign, but not be allowed to vote in polling booths. It is rather ridiculous,” Bakshi said in a letter to the EC Monday.

Also read: ‘Ballot manipulation, unholy nexus’ — why high court scrapped Gujarat minister’s election 

‘Won’t be a level-playing field’

The opposition parties have also objected to digital campaigning ahead of the elections, saying it becomes an unfair contest.

“My party doesn’t have the kind of money to afford digital campaigns, unlike the BJP. It won’t be a level-playing field,” D. Raja told ThePrint. 

He even called the new rule “arbitrary”. “I am 65+. I am in a perfect position to go out and vote. So this doesn’t make any sense,” he added.

Within EC’s jurisdiction to ensure fair polls: BJP 

The BJP, meanwhile, said it’s unfortunate that the opposition parties are raising such allegations.

“It is within the EC’s jurisdiction to ensure free and fair elections, and also to ensure that maximum people can vote,” Nikhil Anand, Bihar BJP spokesperson, told ThePrint.

“So, it is unfortunate that the opposition parties are raising such allegations when we should just cooperate with EC,” he added.

Also read: Online voting may need to be explored due to coronavirus: Additional Solicitor General


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