A clean-up in Andhra Pradesh

Published : Feb 13, 2004 00:00 IST

The Election Commission weeds out 93.42 lakh bogus voters in the State, which is preparing for early Assembly elections.

in Hyderabad

TIMELY and firm intervention by the Election Commission (E.C.) has averted the danger of the election process for the Lok Sabha and the Assembly in Andhra Pradesh being reduced to a farce. In a ruthless and clear-headed, though not flawless, action, the Commission weeded out 93.42 lakh bogus voters. The end result is the shrinking of the total electorate in the State by 7.14 per cent, from 5.49 crores to 5.10 crores.

The State's population is estimated to be 7.7 crores. The voter strength works out to 66.23 per cent of this after the E.C's action. Had it not been for the drive, the voter strength would have reached an astounding 80 per cent.

As many as 28.86 lakh of the 54.88 lakh applications received during the routine summary revision of rolls have been rejected. The majority of the names deleted are from the list of `residual voters', who did not turn up to be photographed for identity card purposes in spite of being served notices. The rest are those who died or had migrated.

The Congress(I) has welcomed the E.C's action. Andhra Pradesh Congress(I) Committee (APCC) president D. Srinivas said that his party had all along been pointing out that the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) had enrolled bogus voters on a large scale in order to subvert the elections.

For the TDP, the mass deletion of names from the voters list has come as a shock. It contended that the decadal population growth rate in the State had shown a 10.5 per cent decline between 1991 and 2001. This, it said, would lead to an increase in the voter strength. The party maintained that it was improper for the E.C. to delete the names of voters from the rolls on the grounds that the voter to population ratio exceeded 65 per cent.

Nothing appears to have gone right for TDP president and State Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu after he took what appeared to be `a careful and measured decision', on November 14, to dissolve prematurely the State Assembly. His gamble to go in for a snap poll on the plank of `Naxalite violence versus development of the State' came unstuck almost immediately.

No sooner had Governor S.S. Barnala dissolved the House on the Cabinet's recommendation, than Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) J.M. Lyngdoh expressed the E.C's inability to hold the elections in February as Chandrababu Naidu had planned. "It is not prepared at the moment. The Election Commission takes its own time to hold elections," said Lyngdoh, much to Chandrababu Naidu's disappointment.

The CEC had good reasons for taking this stand. Electoral rolls in the State were due for revision. The Commission soon released a time table, for the summary revision of rolls from November 27 to the publication of revised rolls on January 20. Moreover, the Supreme Court had held in respect of the Gujarat elections that on the premature dissolution of an Assembly, the E.C. had up to six months' time to hold elections.

Chandrababu Naidu appeared resigned to the fait accompli of late elections. He had erred in not consulting the E.C. about its convenience before dissolving the Assembly. In fact, this hasty decision came to be known as the `Naidu mistake' at the National Executive meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Hyderabad on January 11 and 12, where the main agenda was early elections to the Lok Sabha.

The TDP chief did the next best thing by gearing up party cadre for the revision of the electoral rolls. Reviewing their performance on a daily basis, the party even gave grades to leaders who achieved or exceeded their enrolment targets. Congress(I) workers competed with their TDP counterparts in enrolling as many voters as possible.

This unhealthy competition soon threatened to derail the enrolment process. There were instances galore of hundreds of persons filing applications for enrolment from the same address. The issue of `bogus voters' soon snowballed into a political controversy, with the TDP at its centre. The E.C. despatched four teams of officials on December 22 to review the roll revision.

As the E.C. teams began verification, the TDP and the Opposition parties unleashed a war of words against one another and rushed teams to New Delhi to make representations to the E.C. The Congress(I), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or the CPI(M), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), in a joint representation submitted to Lyngdoh on January 8, alleged that the Commission's annual roll revision exercise had been severely impaired by the ruling TDP. They alleged that TDP workers had submitted applications "in scandalous proportions" and were putting pressure on revenue officials to dance to their tune. The TDP government had also transferred mandal revenue officers, police officers and other officials en masse, they said.

Denying these charges, the TDP held that Opposition parties were resorting to a campaign of half-truths and untruths to vilify it. It said there was nothing wrong in its leaders submitting bunches of applications for enrolment. The election authorities had themselves held meetings with various political parties to create awareness so that genuine voters were not left out. This apart, political parties were given an opportunity to file in bulk claims and objections in Forms 6 and 7 respectively through their district party president and secretaries.

The slanging match ended only when the E.C. teams started weeding out bogus applications on a large scale. Their action sent alarm bells ringing in political parties.

The TDP made frantic appeals to the E.C. not to remove genuine voters in the name of weeding out bogus claims. The Congress(I) and other parties also made the same appeal. Both sides said that lower level officials were bent on drastically pruning the list though the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of the State had assured them that the ratio of voters to the population would not be the sole criterion for deciding elimination.

In going in for Assembly elections, Chandrababu Naidu had taken only the `winnability' factor of his party into consideration. However, he built up a rather fragile argument that Naxalites, aided and abetted by the Congress(I), were creating obstacles in the path of development. He contended that the TDP, by seeking and winning a popular mandate, would get its stand vindicated and show that the Naxalites, who had made an attempt on his life on October 1, 2003, enjoyed no public support. It turned out to be a damp squib as a campaign plank, as his own partymen were either unwilling or scared to take on the Naxalites.

The faction-ridden Congress(I) is slowly showing some semblance of unity through `bus yatras' and the stepping up of efforts to forge alliances with other Opposition parties. The TDP, on the other hand, is focussing on gearing up its 90-lakh-strong cadre and holding public meetings. It received a shot in the arm when the Centre decided to go in for general elections. TDP leaders feel that the wave in favour of the Vajpayee government will boost their party's prospects too, thanks to its alliance with the BJP.

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