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RAM VILAS PASWAN: THE POLITICAL WEATHERMAN FROM BIHAR

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Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan passed away on 8 October after a cardiac procedure. He donned many hats during his long political career. Once a political leader with a massive victory margin, a nine-time Lok Sabha member and a one-term Rajya Sabha MP, minister in cabinets of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi, one sobriquet that stuck him like none other was that of a “Mausam Vaigyanik”—an expert in reading the political weather.

His knowledge of Indian polity was paramount and since he always knew which way the wind was blowing, he would conveniently switch sides and be the “Kingmaker” and a steady face in the Union Cabinet. Paswan held various Cabinet positions under various Central governments including the Ministry of Communications, Information and Technology, Ministry of Mines, Railways and Labour and Welfare among others.

Hailing from Khagaria in Bihar, Ram Vilas Paswan was first fielded in Alauli (Assembly Constituency) in 1969 by the anti-INC Samyukta Socialist Party , an offshoot of the Praja Socialist Party where he eventually won. He was close to freedom fighters and the then prominent politicians such as Raj Narain and Jaiprakash Narayan. The 8-time Lok Sabha MP who has held multiple Central portfolio, Ram Vilas Paswan was much more than just a Dalit leader as some commentators portray him to be.

It is said that one can never have permanent friends nor enemies in politics. Ram Vilas Paswan was dubbed as the ‘Weatherman’ by some and had tailored multiple successful alliances that amplified his image as a kingmaker. . Not only was he a crucial player in consolidating Dalit votes, but also a key partner for most of the parties that came to power in Bihar and at the Centre. He allied with Nitish Kumar in the 1999 General Elections as part of the BJP-led grouping which led to the ousting of Lalu Prasad Yadav from his own seat.

In 2002, Ram Vilas Paswan had quit Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet demanding the removal of Narendra Modi as Gujarat’s Chief Minister. In the subsequent Manmohan Singh-led UPA Government, he was courted as a Minister of Chemical and Fertilisers. Him joining the UPA eventually put Nitish Kumar in the back seat as the JD(U) lost 12 seats, having won just 6. However, in 2014, PM Narendra Modi gave Ram Vilas Paswan a Central portfolio and considered him an important advisor in tackling Dalit issues. It was this positioning, cross-cutting support and the acceptance amongst those he had opposed that signified his role as a kingmaker.

Ram Vilas Paswan’s death has come at a time when Bihar had started pacing for the crucial state assembly elections where Nitish Kumar is seeking another term and RJD’s Tejaswi Yadav is consolidating the opposition ranks. He leaves his legacy behind, and the state is poised to face a confusing three-cornered contest as Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) is looking to make a dent into the BJP-JD(U) alliance.

The LJP under Ram Vilas Paswan’s son Chirag Paswan is said to contest from 143 seats taking on the JD(U) directly at some constituencies and leaving the BJP unopposed in the others.

ANALYSING VOTEBANK ARITHMETIC

Over the years, undoubtedly, both religion and caste have played a pivotal role in Bihari politics over the years. Until 1967, those belonging to the upper castes dominated both politics and political parties. However, after the resurgence of the middle class, members of castes such as Koeri, Yadav, Kurmi, Paswan inched closer to the power corridors.

When we look at the caste composition of the state, as per the last census, upper castes in Bihar included Brahmins (around 6%), Rajput (around 5%), Bhumihar (5%) and Kayastha (1.5-2%). The upper castes comprise approximately 16% of the population of the state. Those belonging to Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Economically Backward Classes (EBC) constitute a whopping 56% of the total population.

Dominant groups in the OBC include Yadavs (12%) and Kurmis (4%). In addition to this, Dalits and Mahadalits, belonging to the Scheduled Caste (SC) category constitute another 15% of the population.

Twenty-two caste groups listed under Scheduled Caste category are considered to be Dalits, and they occupy the lowest rungs of the caste hierarchy. In 2007, Nitish Kumar created a new category of ‘Mahadalits’, which would include the most deprived communities. Initially, when a commission was set up to identify the most deprived Dalit castes 18 out of the 22 Dalit castes were included in the Mahadalit category, leaving out Dhobi, Chamar, Pasi and Paswans.

Later, all castes were put in the Mahadalit category, leaving out only Dusadhs (Paswans), who are also the second-largest Dalit caste group. Several political commentators believed that this move by Nitish Kumar was done to marginalize and cut into the vote bank of Ram Vilas Paswan. Due to the creation of the Mahadalit category, the Dalit vote bank split, with Mahadalits supporting Nitish Kumar, while Dalits supporting Ram Vilas Paswan.

After the demise of Ram Vilas Paswan, the question that arises is that whether Chirag’s LJP be able to draw their core Dalit vote-bank or will the Mahadalits continue to line up for Nitish Kumar?

However, as some commentators think Chirag Paswan’s decision to contest alone is not just an attempt to consolidate the Dalit vote-bank, but will instead have other implications.

It is important to note that this is the first time the LJP is contesting an election without its supremo, Ram Vilas Paswan. Chirag’s decision to contest alone might be an attempt to propel LJP’s presence across a wider geography in the state (143 constituencies). Additionally, the LJP has decided to field several upper-caste candidates, lending more support to the preceding argument. Secondly, due to Chirag’s decision, what initially seemed like a two-cornered fight between the RJD and the JD(U)-BJP alliance, has now become a complicated tussle. The decision to contest alone has put the LJP in a unique position to erode the vote bank of both the JD(U)-BJP alliance as well as the RJD, making him an invaluable ally to both fronts. Chirag’s decision has made him an unavoidable presence not just in this assembly election but for the electoral future of Bihar. 

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TMC Report Card 2016-2021

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POLSTRAT MANIFESTO CHECK WEST BENGAL

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Statistically Speaking

CASH FOR VOTES AND EVM HACKING: TRUTH BEHIND ALLEGATIONS

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On April 6th, as voting closed for assembly elections in various states in India, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, West Bengal and Assam, reports of clashes between political parties from almost every part of the country came to light. Parties accused each other of buying votes for cash, liquor, freebies and of orchestrating electoral fraud by tampering with electronic voting machines (EVMs).

Such allegations during any election in India are not new at all and have become a standard feature of every bypoll, assembly and state election in India. Another common form of electoral malpractice in India is the violation of the model code of conduct as prescribed by the Election Commission of India (ECI).

The ECI, a constitutional body under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Law and Justice, the Government of India is responsible for the conduct of elections at the national level, state level and local level.

The ECI is responsible to ensure that any instances of electoral malpractice and fraud are kept under check as per various laws to ensure that everyone has a level playing field. Let us take a deep dive into these accusations and find out what is the truth behind them.

WHAT IS THE PRICE OF A VOTE IN INDIA? BARTER FOR CASH, LIQUOR, GOLD FOR VOTES

On 5 April, before the single-phase voting was set to begin in Tamil Nadu, residents of a village in Namakkal district held a protest. The reason? The protesters alleged that they had been left out when a political party was distributing cash for votes for polling the next day. Clashes were witnessed on polling day between several political parties in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala accusing each other of giving out cash for votes. Undoubtedly, distributing cash and other freebies such as liquor, narcotics for votes has become a commonplace practice in Indian elections.

The distribution of any cash, gifts, liquor or other items is not permitted when the election model code of conduct is in force by the Election Commission of India. It falls under the definition of ‘bribery’ — an offence under Section 171 (B) of IPC — and Representation of the People Act, 1951. However, despite this, as per data provided by the ECI, roughly three times as much cash, liquor, narcotics and other freebies have been seized so far in 2021 as compared to during the assembly elections in 2016 in the same states.

Till April 6th (before the day of polling) the ECI has roughly seized unaccounted cash, liquor, narcotics, precious metals and other freebies worth Rs. 948 crores from all poll-bound states. In 2016, the same figure was at around Rs. 226 crores. Out of all the freebies seized, cash accounted for the highest percentage (Rs. 331.56 crores), followed by precious metals (Rs. 226.82 crores).

In fact, the exchange of cash and freebies for votes is so common that many politicians have talked about the “going rates” for a vote during elections. In a report written in the Scroll during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, a politician from Arunachal Pradesh remarked, “Last time, I wanted to contest, so I did a recce … the rate was Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 per vote, and there are around 17,000 to 18,000 voters, so adding the cost … it came to around Rs 25 crore to Rs 30 crore. I decided not to contest, it was beyond me.”

Studies conducted by various independent research agencies have shown that the trend of “note for vote” has become extremely common in India and has been on the rise irrespective of the socio-economic status of the recipients. In fact, the earliest evidence of bribing voters goes all the way back to the mid-1950s when parties would offer meals to people and then later request them to vote in their favour.

It is also important to keep in mind that the amounts seized by the ECI, are just a drop in the bucket of the actual amounts of money in circulation during elections. While the election commission places limits on election spending of around Rs. 50-70 lakh for Lok Sabha election candidates, and around Rs. 20-28 lakh for each assembly candidate, the actual expenditures far exceed these limits.

While certainly not all of the expenditure of candidates goes into exchanging cash for votes, it is certainly a significant portion of the expenditure.

Even during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the ECI reported cumulative seizures of cash and freebies amounting to roughly Rs. 5,000 crores, while the overall estimated expenditure during elections was at around Rs. 55,000 crores (Centre for Media Studies). As per data available, 8,024 candidates participated in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Even if we take the upper limit of permitted spending per candidate it adds up to a total expenditure of around Rs. 6,639.22 crores. However, estimates suggest that all candidates themselves spent at least Rs. 24,000 crores in the elections.

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ELECTIONS 2021: BUSTING MYTHS ABOUT ELECTION MALPRACTICES

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Elections in India are not run any differently from how the parliament itself runs, covered in allegations between members and parties. While allegations are standard practice of campaigning (indeed politics) and often unfounded, there are many instances of malpractice during elections regardless of the guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India (ECI). From the purchase of votes, violence, excessive election spending to campaigning within the last 48 hours of voting, there are instances of candidates flouting all rules. Much research has been done on the effectiveness of paying for votes directly to voters in the form of cash or goods which shows us that the effectiveness is undecided and often negated thanks to the secret ballot.

In this column, we will look at some major allegations which are taken up at a large scale and look at the reality on the ground. The contrast of speaking out against corruption during campaigns and at the same time disregarding the model code of conduct set by the ECI provides a glimpse into the workings of politics in the country. Though we have come a long way from mass booth capturing and dumping of votes there still are many aspects of the election process that we as a country need to improve. When the validity of electronic voting machines (EVMs) was questioned, (voter-verified paper audit trail) VVPATs were introduced to ensure fair voting. The ECI actively works on handling complaints swiftly and even holding re-elections in areas but the complex systems in place for the largest elections in the world still have ways to go to ensure there is no truth left behind these allegations.

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HATE SPEECH: VIOLATION OF THE ELECTORAL MODEL CODE OF CONDUCT

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One of the first rules of the model code of conduct (MCC), as prescribed by the ECI, is that “no party or candidate shall include in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic”. In simple words, it prohibits hate speech. In 2021 so far, the Election Commission has placed a ban on several candidates, including West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and DMK leader A Raja for using communal and religious rhetoric in their speeches while campaigning.

It is no secret that elections in India are fueled by emphasising communal and religious identity. Hence, it is no surprise that parties use such rhetoric while campaigning to emphasise and re-establish community identity. You may ask: if this is such a commonplace practice, what is the ECI doing to curb the same? The ECI has launched a mobile application whereby any citizen can share proof of malpractice by political parties, candidates and activists when the MCC is in force. The information uploaded from the application is transferred to a control room, where field units or flying squads are alerted for further action.

However, the ECI has also highlighted that it has extremely limited powers in addressing the issue of violation of the MCC by candidates and parties through the usage of hate speech. In 2019, during the Lok Sabha elections, in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed the Supreme Court, called the commission “toothless” for failing to act against political leaders who made polarizing speeches. The Supreme Court had made an inquiry into action being taken against leaders who had made polarizing speeches, to which the ECI replied that it does not have any powers by which it can disqualify a candidate for violating the rules of conduct. The counsel for the EC explained that in any case of the violation of the MCC, in the first instance, the candidate is issued a notice and a reply is sought. If the candidate does not respond, then an advisory is issued, after which the EC files a complaint.

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CAN AN EVM REALLY BE HACKED?

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During any election in India – whether it is a bypoll, national or state elections, media reports with allegations of voter fraud through malfunctioning electronic voting machines (EVMs) or through the tampering of said EVMs undoubtedly do the rounds. Almost all political parties accuse each other of EVM tampering and orchestrating voter fraud. However, the question that now arises is whether EVMs really are that easy to tamper with and manipulate? The short answer is no, they are not.

EVMs can be hacked in two main ways: wireless and wired. As per the analysis by various cybercrime and election experts EVM hacking is an extremely complicated feat. As EVMs are not networked devices hacking any EVM would require altering the machine itself. This means that anyone attempting to hack an EVM can not do so remotely, and would need physical access to machines themselves, which would require them to be in collusion with EVM manufacturing authorities, the ECI as well as companies that make the chips in EVMs.

EVMs are currently only produced by two public sector units in India, and the engineers producing the EVMs would have no knowledge of where an EVM they have manufactured would be deployed.

Other allegations of EVM tampering also state that EVMs are transferred after votes have been polled without mandated security of the ECI. Parties allege that these could be attempts to swap out actual EVMs with other ones. However, as per the ECI, all EVMs are placed in strong rooms that are under surveillance 24 hours a day under CCTV cameras and in the presence of CAPF security. A lot of the EVMs which are shown as being transferred without adequate security are “reserved EVMs” which are kept in case of malfunction of other EVMs in circulation.

That being said, some cases of voter fraud have still been reported, such as during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when polling agents stepped up to the balloting units and pressed the button for a voter. Additionally, due to some lax monitoring, some instances of EVMs being found outside politicians’ residences and unsafe godowns have also been reported in the past few elections. However, these instances are rare and are usually prevented by ECI’s micro observers and polling agents of other parties. Usage of EVMs offers countless benefits such as verifiability, accuracy, security, secrecy and accessibility. EVMs ensure that no individual can revote, that every individual’s vote is recorded and counted accurately and that all votes once recorded can not be manipulated. Overall, it could be said that the majority of the reports of EVM tampering and malfunction are simply political rhetoric and are not feasible.

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KERALA ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS 2021: THE TUSSLE OF COMMUNITY VOTE-BANKS

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Voting for the Assembly Election in Kerala was held in one phase on April 6. The election was a two-pronged contest between the incumbent Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and Indian National Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). Traditionally, the state has never had the same government re-elected to power for two terms, and all eyes are on the incumbent LDF to see whether they will be able to break this pattern. In Kerala, unlike other states, the support of communities doesn’t always lean towards one party or alliance. Both the LDF and UDF have been able to secure votes across communities over the years, and in the past few years, the support of communities has shifted from one alliance to another. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, in the state has relied mostly on votes of the Hindu community and to a small extent on the Christians. Let us explore more about the 4 most dominant communities in the state: Nair, Ezvaha, Christians, and Muslims to find out how support from these communities has shifted over the years and attempt to answer the question: who will they support in 2021?

NAIR COMMUNITY: SHIFT IN VOTING PATTERNS

Nair Hindus constitute roughly 15% of the population in Kerala and are dominant in Kollam, Kannur, Thiruvananthapuram and Pathanamthitta districts. As per the analysis of National and State Election Studies conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and the Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR), in the past 3 Assembly elections, the incumbent LDF has secured around 40-45% of Nair votes.

This figure drastically reduced to around 20% in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Many analysts and experts attributed this sudden decline in support from the Nair community to the decision of the state government to implement the Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all age groups entry into the Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala. The UDF on the other hand had only managed to secure 20% of the votes of the Nair community in the 2016 Assembly elections, which was a considerable decline from 2011, where the UDF managed to secure around 43% of the votes. However, in 2019 during the Lok Sabha elections, the UDF managed to increase their vote share of the community to around 35%.

As per psychologists and election analysts, the vote share of the Nair community migrated mainly from the UDF to the BJP. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had only managed to secure 33% of the votes of the Nair community in 2016 and managed to increase this to 43% in 2019 during the Lok Sabha elections. This is a dramatic increase from the past few elections when only 11% of Nair community members voted from the BJP (2006 and 2011).

Many have attributed this shift of the votes from the upper-class Nair community to the Modi Factor. The previous Assembly and Lok Sabha election both showcase that the BJP has benefitted from a shift in votes of the Nair community and as per experts is likely to happen in 2021 again.

EZHAVA COMMUNITY IN KERALAPhotograph by Creative CommonsPhotograph by Live.StaticFlikr

Another dominant Hindu community in the state is the Ezhava community, which constitutes roughly 21.6% of the population. Ezhava community members have traditionally majorly voted for the LDF, which managed to secure around 64-65% of votes from the community in both 2006 and 2011 elections. However, this drastically fell to around 49% in 2016. The UDF, on the other hand, managed to secure around 26% of the votes from the community in the 2011 elections, and this improved slightly to 28% in 2016. Even in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Ezhava community’s support for the UDF remained unchanged at 28%.

Once again, as in the case of the Nair community, the BJP, which only managed to secure 6-7% of the votes of the Ezhava community in both 2006 and 2011 elections managed to increase this to 17% in 2016. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, this number increased again, although only slightly to around 21%. As per the analysis of electoral trends conducted by the CSDS, the BJP used the narrative of ‘minority appeasement’ by the UDF to consolidate Hindu votes from Nair, Ezhava, Brahmin and SC communities. Another reason for the surge in Ezhava community votes towards the BJP could also be attributed to the work of its alliance partner Bharat Dharma Jana Sena which was established in 2015.

MUSLIMS IN KERALA: WHO WILL THEY SUPPORT?

Muslims in Kerala constitute roughly 26% of the population in the state. Traditionally, the Indian Union of Muslim League (IUML) has been influential in the Kozhikode, Malappuram, and Kasaragod districts of Kerala, where Muslim populations dominate. The IUML has been an alliance partner of the UDF for more than 40 years. The UDF managed to secure 65% of the votes from the Muslim community during the 2011 elections. This figure fell to 58% during the 2016 Assembly polls and increased back to 65% during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In the past 3 assembly elections, the LDF has been able to secure roughly 30-39% of the votes from the community.

This shift in Muslim voting trends during the 2019 LS elections occurred mainly owing to Rahul Gandhi’s rising prominence in the state. Congress-led UDF managed to even sweep out left citadels in Malabar, a result of the consolidation of Muslim votes in these areas. However, as per election analysts there seem to be no signs of a similar consolidation of Muslim votes in the ongoing assembly elections. Both the Rahul Gandhi and IUML factors which have helped the UDF secure minority votes in previous elections seem to be dimming out this time around. Another major factor behind this could be Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government’s strong stand against the Citizenship Amendment Act thereby having a positive impact on the minority population.

THE CHRISTIAN VOTE IN KERALA

Christians form roughly 18.4% of the 3.34 crore population of Kerala. While Catholics comprise the majority of the Christian population in the state, both Jacobite and Orthodox sects are also a small but influential part of the Christian vote. The community which is dominant in 33 seats could affect results in constituencies across Ernakulam, Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta districts. While traditionally Christians have supported the Congress, the past few years have seen attempts from both the incumbent LDF and the BJP to woo the community. Both the CPI(M) and BJP have been pushing for the narrative that the UDF is controlled by their alliance with the IUML in an attempt to influence Christian votes away from the UDF.

The UDF managed to secure 67% of the votes of the Christian community in the 2011 polls, however, this slipped to 51% during the 2016 Assembly polls. However, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the UDF managed to increase its vote share in the Christian community again, securing 70% of the votes. The LDF, on the other hand, managed to decrease its vote share from the Christian community from 35% during the 2016 Assembly polls to only 25% during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Another major factor that is likely to affect the vote of the Christian community in the state is the 2017 Supreme Court verdict which resulted in the control of several Jacobite churches in the state being handed over to the rival Orthodox faction. There have been widespread protests across the state by the Jacobite community who are concerned about the loss of their churches as a result of the implementation of the verdict.

The results of the 2021 Assembly elections will also show the impact of the split of the Kerala Congress (M), which is the largest Christian party in the state. For over 40 years, the KC(M) had been an ally of the INC-led UDF. However, the party’s official faction, led by the son of the party’s late Chairman, KM Mani has switched its alliance to the CPI(M)-led LDF. In fact, despite protests by party cadres, the CPI(M) has decided to give 13 seats to the KC(M), and is fielding candidates from the KC(M) from its strongholds such as Ranni in Pathanamthitta.

On the other hand, the rival KC(M) faction led by PJ Joseph has joined hands in alliance with UDF. While analysts expect the rival faction to secure 9-10 seats in Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta districts, the true impact of the split will only be visible once the results are out.

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