On May 23, BJP proved itself right with prescience and precision. Its party president Amit Shah, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had predicted 300 seats during the run-up to the election campaign. Congress, they believed, would struggle to get 50 seats. Not just them, other BJP leaders also seemed sure of these exact numbers.
On November 18, 2018, during an Economic Times summit, Piyush Goyal was asked by the host of the programme — how many seats did he expect his party, BJP, to win in the 2019 elections? Goyal, prophetically, saw the future. He said that the BJP would win between 297 and 303 seats. You can’t get more precise than this mathematical miracle even if you had a super computer ticking in your head till everything has been worked out — votes cast and votes counted.
Indeed, this is a bit too eerie in terms of how the BJP managed to get the results so right and on the dot – almost six months before the results were announced and two months before the Pulwama terror attack and Balakot airforce retaliation against Pakistan that supposedly changed the course of the elections.
On November 18, 2018, during an Economic Times summit, Piyush Goyal was asked by the host — how many seats did he expect his party, BJP, to win in the 2019 elections? Goyal saw the future. He said that the BJP would win between 297 and 303 seats.
It is not prudent to jump to easy conclusions about how BJP and its ministers arrived at such an accurate figure, but the May 19 exit polls softened any skepticism anyone could have about the results. They gave ample indications about the spectacular return of the BJP.
Normally, it is difficult to translate the vote percentage to the number of seats, but the pollsters did it with abandon. Some of them were ambitious enough to even announce precisely the number of seats in this or that constituency that the political party would win; others adopted the old method of extrapolating seats from the vote percentage without specifying from where they would be coming.
On both counts, BJP was seen by leading pollsters to be winning 300 seats. Couple of the pollsters conservatively pegged them to 240 odd, but, largely, the drift was in favour of the ruling party emerging as the single largest party.
Apart from the assessment of political parties, many of the diplomatic missions who maintain a hawk’s eye on how elections will play out were all proved wrong. Three mission heads of P5 countries, plus scores of diplomats from other countries, had predicted not more than 220 seats to the BJP. Many of these missions have nation-wide networks and they are mostly on top of what’s happening in the country.
Many of them do not allow ideological biases to color their reports to their respective governments, lest it leads to making wrong choices. Said a diplomat, “No one in our network, which spans the entire country, gave the BJP this number of seats. We have to figure out what went wrong in our information network!”
This is a bit too eerie in terms of how the BJP got the results so right– almost six months before the results were announced and two months before Pulwama and Balakot.
Similarly, international news agency Reuters, which usually does not stick its neck out on electoral outcomes, was also caught on the wrong foot by the May 23 results. Like many in the media, politics and diplomatic services, they had given a lot of weight to economic issues like farmers’ distress, raging unemployment and the disastrous implications of demonetisation and a slowing economy. This premise was strengthened by the losses experienced in the 2018 assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
Again, in the Gujarat assembly polls, the BJP had just about managed to escape defeat by the skin of its teeth. As there are only two instances in the recent past of voters supporting a different party from the one they have voted for in the assembly polls, one assumed that the BJP had done precious little to change this trend.
Similar calculations were driving the opposition parties to first get together and also raise the bogie of how the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) manipulation could deny them a win if the Election Commission of India (ECI) was not pressured to be objective. Its indifferent attitude was sharply in focus during the Telengana assembly elections where its Chief Election Officer (CEO) casually said sorry for deleting 30 lakh votes from the voters list. The difference between the win and loss between the TRS and Congress-led alliance was also around these many votes.
So, the belief was that if the ECI could be forced through the Supreme Court to ensure that there was no mass rigging of the EVMs, then, their win was assured. Parties like BSP that had come to grief in the 2017 elections, saw merit in the campaign against the EVMs.
The Congress approached the Uttrakhand High Court and managed to convince the judge to freeze the EVMs where the Congress had provided circumstantial evidence of EVMs being shifted from the one that were used for polling. The high court later relented and allowed the EC to breathe easy without answering the many questions that came up in the petition.
Later, a RTI revealed further confusion that resides in the ECI. This pertained to how many EVMs have been manufactured by ECIL and BEL and those that are used by the election body. There was a scandalous mismatch between the EVMs supplied and the ones used. Thousands of EVMs were alleged to be found missing – and the ECI has not bothered to measure accountability or give a worthwhile answer to this incredible mystery.
The uncanny and transparent question remained: where were these extra machines used? No one knew how and where these machines were used. The question remains unanswered even now.
Fired by all these realisations, and the ground reports which said there was no wave or undercurrent in support of Modi, the opposition parties led by the Congress seemed optimistic of their chances after the polling. So confident were they after the seven-stage elections that they began to reach out to other political parties to form a possible coalition government in Delhi.
Mayawati was one of them. TDP leader Chandra Babu Naidu, who made innumerable visits to Delhi to get the opposition parties together and also led a campaign against the EVMs, seemed confident about his return to power. Congress President Rahul Gandhi was also told by the data analytics persons in his team about how well the party had performed.
In other words, save for the Left parties, all the non-BJP parties contesting the elections believed that this was their moment to return to power after being in oblivion for five years. Every report worth its while from the rural and urban India was telling that at best it might turn out to be a hung assembly. Indeed, even Hardnews, which got it right in every elections of the past, had also predicted a hung assembly.
To reiterate, Congress, TDP, DMK, SP, BSP, Trinamool Congress and many diplomatic missions, a bunch of pollsters and hundreds of hardened journalists who went around the country covering scores of constituencies, believed that the winds of change were blowing all across in the country, especially in the Hindi heartland and UP. Nobody gave more than 25 to BJP in UP, for instance.
The seemingly anecdotal evidence of elections being stolen found corroboration from hundreds of booths all over the country that showed a major difference between votes polled and votes counted. The ECI struggled to provide a reason for this mismatch. Vociferous demands from civil society groups, including 70 plus former bureaucrats and top officials of the government of India, were blocked, ignored or scuttled.
There was another mismatch, for instance, which was brought to the notice from a booth in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh. Here, the total votes counted were 841 whereas the total votes were only 481. Ironically, the ECI announced the result even in the face of the mismatch.
What was also not clarified by the ECI was whether the VVPAT-EVM matching showed any discrepancy. There are around 370 parliamentary seats in the country that needs a serious relook due to this massive mismatch.
There are around 370 parliamentary seats that needs a serious relook due to this massive mismatch. The government and ECI has desisted attempts to question booth-level numbers or the gaps in EVM-VVPAT matching.
As the government and ECI are extremely zealous about preserving the credibility of the electoral process, it has desisted attempts of civil society groups and political parties to question booth-level numbers or the gaps in EVM-VVPAT matching. An ECI order that a jail sentence and punishment would follow, if the allegations of VVPAT and voting machines not matching, is proved wrong, was seemingly used as a ploy to stop people to file petitions. Fear of State action and the desire of being on the right side of the government scared many of those voters and candidates who had serious issues with the result outcome.
In a round table discussion, a candidate of the ‘mahagathbandhan’ who lost the election by a whisker in UP, found it difficult to find workers who could follow up on their initial complaints after the results were declared. “They were all so scared that they would not just show up,” said the candidate.
Thousands of ‘mahagathbandhan’ supporters were allegedly swayed on the day before polling. There were allegations, too, that the minority community that was the bedrock of the opposition alliance also voted for the ruling party. This candidate recalled how voters recounted overnight pay-offs through Paytm by the cadre belonging to the camp of the rival candidate. Many from the minority community found their votes transferred to the BJP.
Surprisingly, while civil society groups are up in arms holding conventions in Delhi and Mumbai with eminent citizens and running signature campaigns and sending petitions to all political parties to go back to ballot papers, the opposition parties seem totally shell-shocked. Barring Mamata Banerji and Prakash Ambedkar, all the top leaders have chosen to be silent on the issue – why? What are they afraid of?
Surely, the fog on how the BJP won has not lifted as yet. Perhaps, it will take some out-of-the-box, investigative journalistic enterprise at some stage to unravel it, as it has happened in Brazil recently, or as it unfolded in the most diabolical forms in the USA, and is still unfolding leading to a spate of high profile resignations in the American establishment and in the White House.