Soon after the simultaneous polling for the 175-member Andhra Pradesh Assembly and 25 Lok Sabha seats on April 11, Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu went on the offensive against the Election Commission (EC) for “widespread malfunctioning” and “shoddy arrangements” of electronic voting machines (EVMs).
An unusually aggressive and angry Naidu made some caustic comments against the poll panel, saying it was acting like a “puppet” in the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and called it a “branch office of the BJP” and the “most useless institution” in the country.
He then followed it up with a visit to Delhi where he mobilised leaders of other opposition parties and virtually declared a war against the Election Commission. His Telugu Desam Party, (TDP) along with 22 other opposition parties, announced that they will approach the Supreme Court to demand a minimum of 50% of votes cast in the ongoing elections be verified with a paper trail.
The tone and tenor of Naidu’s outbursts created a flutter in political circles and his claim that 35% of EVMs in the state had malfunctioned was received with a sense of disbelief even within his own party. The EC has rubbished the charge and said there were some “initial glitches” which were subsequently rectified and the faulty EVMs were replaced.
The opposition YSR Congress Party (YSRCP), headed by Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, lost no time in alleging that Naidu’s “intemperate remarks” against the EC reflected his “frustration over an imminent defeat” in the elections.
The TDP supremo’s demand that the poll body revert to the old system of paper ballots has raised many eyebrows as such positioning went against his carefully-crafted “tech-savvy” image.
“Does he mean to say that the EVMs in the 2014 elections, which his party had won, were manipulated? He must stop playing such cheap politics and learn to accept people’s verdict whichever way it goes,” the working president of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) K T Rama Rao said. He said that Naidu was raising doubts over the efficacy of EVMs and invoking conspiracy theories out of fear of losing the elections.
Confrontation with EC
Naidu’s strident attack comes in the backdrop of his government’s recent confrontation with the poll panel over transfer of the state chief secretary and three senior police officials ahead of the polling.
The EC had, on April 5, ordered transfer of chief secretary Anil Chandra Punetha and replaced him with another senior IAS officer LV Subrahmanyam. Earlier, the government had issued a string of GOs defying the EC’s orders on shifting three IPS officers including the chief of the state intelligence wing AB Venkateshwar Rao.
The transfer of officials and a series of raids on the houses of the TDP leaders by the income tax and Enforcement Directorate (ED) were seen as signs of “witch-hunting” by the NDA government.
EVMs prone to tampering
Claiming that EVMs were prone to tampering by managing the microcontroller and chips, Naidu said that the people were losing faith in the fairness and impartiality of the Election Commission. “My fight against the poll panel is to protect the democracy,” he said and pointed out that only 18 countries in the world were using EVMs for polls.
“The Election Commission has lost credibility with the non-functioning of EVMs at majority of places in Andhra Pradesh. It has failed the country,” the Chief Minister said.
The opposition parties had earlier filed a petition with the apex court demanding 50% counting of VVPATs and seeking clarification on the mechanism to proceed further if there is a discrepancy between the votes counted and the VVPAT slips.
On April 8, the court had directed the EC to increase the random matching of the VVPAT slips with the EVMs to five polling booths per assembly segment, from one at present.
Ticks off chief secretary
In another unusual move, Naidu ticked off chief secretary L V Subrahmanyam, appointed by the EC, for visiting the police headquarters on the day of polling to monitor the law and order situation.
“What are you doing? What was the need for it?” he wondered.
The Chief Minister also questioned the senior bureaucrat’s credentials, saying he was one of the accused in an illegal assets case involving the opposition leader Jagan Mohan Reddy. However, the High Court had dismissed the case against the IAS officer.
Meanwhile, over a dozen retired civil servants from the united AP have raised objections over Naidu’s remarks against the chief secretary.
In a letter to the Chief Minister, 13 former IAS officers demanded withdrawal of his ‘derogatory’ remarks against the chief secretary and tender an apology.
“Subrahmanyam is known to all of us as an outstanding officer. When the cases (against him) have been quashed by the High Court, it is unfortunate that Chief Minister is referring to him as an accused,” they said, demanding that Naidu avoid such comments in future, withdraw his remarks made already and apologise.