Task cut out for ECI to restore its credibility

Election Commission of India (ECI). (File Photo: IANS)

With only a few weeks left before the General Election 2024, the Election Commission of India stated that it was fully determined to tackle what it described as the ‘4 Ms’ — muscle power, money power, misinformation, and the model code of conduct violations. However, there remains an ambiguity as to how the ECI will tackle the troubling reality of rampant booth capturing.

Tehelka’s Cover Story ‘Booth Capturing for Cash’ uncovers booth capturing and other electoral malpractices in Jammu and Kashmir. It’s not that booth capturing is confined only to J&K but the sordid saga unravels how nefarious elements are active to capture polling booths in return for cash.  Agents who specialize in “poll management”, including booth capturing were recorded on camera by Tehelka’s Special Investigation Team “promising candidates a guaranteed victory” through this fraud by capturing booths and voting in place of genuine voters. The EVMs were introduced to make it impossible for booth capturers to capture ballot boxes, however, booth capturing continues to happen.

The agents claimed to have used muscle power to influence results in many elections in the past.  One such agent claimed, “For the right price, I’m willing to do anything. I have orchestrated booth capturing in the past elections. The cost of such operations varies from booth to booth. It can range from one lakh to two lakhs, or even escalate to five lakhs and ten lakhs, depending on the booth’s size. In Kashmir, when candidates realize they’re losing elections, they take recourse to staged stone pelting. They employ youth to throw stones, followed by their supporters seizing control of the booths.” With this expose’, Tehelka has kicked off an investigative series on the “4Ms,” starting with this edition’s focus on muscle power.

Our other story on electoral bonds data exposes the corporate-political nexus as one of the biggest quid pro quo scams, uncovering the alleged money trail in awarding huge government contracts, both before and after receiving donations from corporate business houses. The recent closure report filed by the CBI and a clean chit to the former Union Civil Aviation Minister into alleged irregularities in the leasing of aircraft by the National Aviation Corporation of India Limited raises suspicion. The former Nationalist Congress Party leader had switched over to the ruling dispensation a few months ago and now the probe agency finds no ‘evidence of any wrongdoing’.  The allegation by the Delhi Chief Minister that the approver in the liquor policy case in 2023, gave over Rs 50 crore to the ruling party through electoral bonds after he was arrested by the ED, calls for a probe in public interest.

It is said that “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion,” but now the credibility of the CBI, the ED, the IT, and other agencies is at stake. The Election Commission has a task cut for it to ensure people at large that elections are fair and all political parties have been given a level playing field, and doubts on quid pro quo cleared.