Now that we are through with the Assembly election in Bihar, there are several takeaways that have great significance for our democracy and which we need to put on record. Here are a few of them: This was the first election after the deadly coronavirus struck the country and it was held with utmost care and diligence to ensure that all Covid protocols were observed; the poll was violence-free; women outnumbered men in the polling booths; and the counting and declaration of results was done in the most transparent manner possible.
The NDA returned to power, but not before a nail-biting finish with the rival Mahagathbandhan (MGB) breathing down its neck throughout counting day. This poll also marked a generational shift with the arrival of the RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, son of Lalu Prasad Yadav, and the LJP’s Chirag Paswan, son of Ram Vilas Paswan, in a big way on the Bihar political scene.
It is indeed remarkable that Tejashwi, although just 31, took over the leadership of the MGB, carried even India’s grand old party—the Congress—on his young shoulders, travelled across the length and breadth of Bihar, addressed hundreds of meetings and offered a stiff fight to the ruling NDA. However, some of this shine has worn off with his unsubstantiated and irresponsible allegations against the Election Commission.
One did not expect him to imitate US President Donald Trump and become a poor loser after putting up such a phenomenal campaign for his party and the MGB. Tejashwi must realise that Nawada is unlike Nevada. Every state in the US and at times, every county, has its own method of holding elections, which ranges from punching machines, operating a 10-foot lever to register a vote, stamping a ballot and using voting machines. Further, every state has different rules pertaining to elections. As a result, the date for acceptance of postal ballots varies from Wisconsin to Michigan to Pennsylvania. Similarly, the rules regarding recount vary from state to state.
In India, we have one common election law made by Parliament and applicable all over the country, and one standard electronic voting machine that is deployed everywhere. The procedure for conduct of elections is also uniform. The machine is shown to and tested before agents of candidates before the commencement of polling. Every machine is a standalone unit, which is not connected to the internet or to any network via which there could be injection of a virus or hacking. Further, in recent years, the Election Commission has also introduced a paper trail, which is tallied with the numbers put out by the machine in a sample number of cases.
There cannot be a more foolproof method of polling and instead of being proud of what we have achieved as the world’s largest democracy, members of the MGB, including the Congress, frequently cast doubts on the efficacy of these machines. But ask them how the Congress won the Assembly polls in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh a couple of years ago when PM Modi and the BJP were well entrenched at the national level and in these states, and they have no answer.
Tejashwi claimed after the results were declared that his alliance had won 130 seats but he was cheated of victory by the Election Commission because of irregularities in counting rejected postal ballots. This allegation bears uncanny resemblance to the accusations hurled by Trump against election officials in many states.
The EC has dismissed these allegations. It said the claim that postal ballots were manipulated was baseless because there was only one seat where the number of rejected postal ballots was higher than the margin of victory. In this constituency, on the request of the defeated candidate, the Returning Officer had ordered a recount of postal ballots, and the poll outcome remained the same. In all, there were 11 constituencies where the victory margin was less than 1,000 votes and the MGB won four of them, and the LJP and an Independent, one each. The RJD lost just two seats with such a margin. So the allegation that the MGB was deprived of 20 seats through manipulation is baseless.
There can be no doubt about the damage done by the LJP to the NDA and more specifically to the JD(U). There are many instances of the resultant damage. For example, constituencies such as Alauli, Mahnar and Maharajganj were all lost by the JD(U) because of the LJP’s presence. There are many more such seats. This fact clearly shows that a united NDA with the LJP within the alliance would have had a cakewalk in this election.
So what does all this mean? With the BJP bagging 74 seats and ensuring the return of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, it is clear that the alliance was riding on Modi’s popularity and the successful delivery of the Union government’s poverty alleviation programmes.Those who have seen elections in Bihar four or five decades ago will not be able to recall a single election in which there was no booth capturing and large-scale violence. In fact, elections in Bihar were synonymous with violence. The huge turnout of women is also an indication of how the democratic roots have gone deeper into the soil of Bihar. The 2020 Bihar Assembly polls is therefore a dream election that will enhance India’s democratic credentials.
A SURYA PRAKASH
Vice-Chairman, Executive Council, Nehru Memorial Museum & Library