Andhra Pradesh polls: High stakes brawl-ridden battle sees Election Commission in dock for malfunctioning EVMs

G Ram Mohan | Apr 12, 2019 | 7 min read


AP’s high stakes brawl-ridden battle sees EC in dock for malfunctioning EVMs

G Ram Mohan and Ayswarya Murthy

Tirupati: The high-stakes battle for power in the state and the Centre unfolded across Andhra Pradesh, which simultaneously elected its Lok Sabha and Assembly representatives Thursday, with widespread violence between party workers of regional giants--- the Telugu Desam Party and Y S Rajashekar Congress Party. Allegations of distribution of money, and EVM malfunctions, the scale of which is under debate, drew considerations from the Election Commission regarding repolling in certain constituencies. 2,395 candidates battled it out for 175 assembly seats.

Voting percentage had touched 75 across the state by 6pm, and was expected to rise to 80% as polling was still ongoing and long queues were reported in some booths. In some constituencies like Puthalapattu, the inter-party clashes turned so violent that polling had to be stopped at 3 pm. The decision about re-polling here and at any other places will be taken Friday, in consultation with the ECI, the state’s Chief Electoral Officer, Gopalakrishna Dwivedi said in the post-poll press conference.

EC in the dock

Even without the fact that it had allowed itself to be drawn into the state’s political drama, the EC had a rather terrible polling day of defending against allegations of large-scale EVM failures.

The night before, Naidu met with AP Chief Electoral Officer Gopala Krishna Dwivedi at the secretariat in Velagapudi, Amaravati. During the meeting, Naidu protested against the alleged bias by the EC in favour of the opposition YSRCP, especially in the transfer of key officials. Naidu also accused the EC of playing into the hands of PM Modi. On polling day, Jagan pointed to this meeting to allege that the CM was threatening the EC.

AP CM Naidu has demanded repolling at places where EVMs did not work. He told AP media that 30 percent of the devices malfunctioned and as a result, polling started up to three hours late at many places. "Even technologically advanced countries are not using EVMs... a voter doesn't get the satisfaction of voting through ballots when they are voting on the EVMs. They don't ensure transparency. EVMs are not correct for the voting process. Today, there are reports of EVM malfunctioning from many booths,” he said.

"Some news channels are reporting that 30 per cent of the EVMs are not working, which is not correct. In total, we have 45,959 booths, and we are using around 92,000 EVMs, out of which we have got 344 issues and 25 are still pending" said Gopalakrishna Dwivedi, CEO AP.

But embarrassingly, CEO Dwivedi could not cast his vote due to technical issues with the EVM at the Undavalli polling station in Tadepalli, which falls under Mangalagiri Assembly constituency, despite making it there sharp at 7 am. He went later on in the evening to cast his vote after the EVMs there were restored.

Bloody ballots

Sporadic incidents of violence between party workers continue to be reported across the state with casualties on both sides. YSRCP workers allegedly attacked Speaker of the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly, Kodela Sivaprasada Rao, who went to inspect a polling booth in Guntur’s Sattenapalle constituency. Another TDP minister’s husband and sister were injured in a violent clash between factions in Atahobilam in Kurnool. Allegations against opposing party workers came thick and fast from Narasraopet, Eluru in West Godavari, Jammalamadugu in Kadapa District and Mydukur.

A viral video of the alleged attack by Eluru TDP MLA Badeti Bujji on YSRCP party workers in West Godavari district’s Sanivarapupeta turned the nation’s attention - as diverted as it was with the first phase polling held across 20 states and UTs - to the brawling between the two biggest state parties. A bloodied party worker is seen asking, “Is it right for an MLA to do this? Is he an MLA or rowdy? Why does he have a gunman? To beat people up? We have come here to vote. Four people came in car to hit us.”

In another dramatic incident, Jana Sena Party Assembly candidate Madhusudan Gupta damaged EVMs at Gooty in Anantapur district, ostensibly protesting the alleged partisan manner in which polling officials were conducting duties. The police arrested him.

Now and five years ago

The electoral outcome in Andhra Pradesh is set to become a watershed in moulding the course of national politics and is a ‘Do or Die’ battle for both Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and opposition leader Y S Jaganmohan Reddy. For Naidu, who is gearing up to hand over Andhra’s reign to his son, Nara Lokesh, in order to be able to play a bigger role in the national level if the opportunity arises, a strong showing in his own backyard is imperative.

Jagan, who narrowly missed the bus in the 2014 state elections (TDP had a narrow lead of less than 1% over its rival in votes polled), cannot afford to sit in the opposition for another five years. The son of former chief minister of Andhra and popular Congress leader YSR Reddy, may find it difficult to keep his flock together without power. But over the past five years, YSRCP has been steadily gaining strength, probably best evidenced by the mass exodus from TDP ahead of the election, when 23 of MLAs and three MPs switched to YSRCP. Also by expertly egging on TDP to take on alliance partner BJP over the granting of special status to the state, Jagan forced TDP out of the central government. YSRCP now promises to deliver what TDP couldn’t despite its cozy relationship with the Centre and ministerial berths in the Union government.

Jagan is intent on scuttling Naidu's national aspirations by aligning with Telangana CM K Chandrasekhar Rao, who is batting for a Federal front. The TRS and YSRCP, having openly exhibited their camaraderie initially, toned it down and desisted from open overtures. TRS supremo, K Chandra Sekhar Rao, however, by promising to support special category status for AP the day before campaign ended, tried to blunt the flak being faced by the YSRCP from anti-Telangana forces.

Taking a cue from Telangana’s assembly elections last year, when TDP was routed from the state after a vociferous TRS campaign that branded it an “Andhra party”, Naidu has been dubbing his rival Jagan, Telangana CM KCR and PM Narendra Modi as anti-Andhra forces to stoke regional sentiment.  

However, the TDP chief weathers strong anti-incumbency, and no longer has the support of former NDA partner BJP or Pawan Kalyan-led Jana Sena, both of whom are contesting independently. BJP, which won four Assembly seats and 2 MP seats in 2014, has taken a loss of popular support with the TDP and YSRCP making special category status their main campaign plank. The TDP, which rolled out a slew of schemes essentially transferring money from the public exchequer to the people, is banking on them to beat any anti-incumbency working against it.

“But the anti-Telangana sentiment being stirred by the TDP may not be a game changer in 2019. The exaggerated fears expressed during Telangana agitation have been blunted. The voters across AP have more affinity towards Hyderabad than Amaravathi with no stakes attached to the place for now. In this milieu, reports of huge shift in voters by those settled in Telangana to TRS were not surprising. The umbilical cord that binds the Telugu people across the regions cannot be wished away,” says veteran journalist A Raghava Sharma. Testament to this is the lakhs of voters from across Telangana who travelled south over the past two days, braving traffic snarls along the highway and overcrowded trains and buses.

TDP has steered clear of aligning with Congress in the state, though it still vouches for alliance with the Congress-led UPA at the Centre. It has learnt it’s lesson from its alliance with Congress in Telangana assembly election, when TDP, which was started by its patriarch the late N T Rama Rao with anti-Congress sentiment. Either way, Congress is barely holding on in the two Telugu states and Andhra voters are essentially punishing the party for bifurcating the state.

With inputs from Nagaraja Gali

The author is a Tirupati-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters

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