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Editorial: An unequal election

The BJP has orchestrated such euphoria that it’s hard to imagine the amount of ecstasy it would need to ingest to top that high if the outcome indeed goes its way on the morrow.

Editorial: An unequal election

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NEW DELHI: The scene is surreal as India lurches into the counting day of this long and fraught election season. One side of the political spectrum has declared victory before the first vote has been counted, sending its supporters into a frenzy of uncontrolled triumphalism, while the other side, having come this far dragging the fetters clamped to its feet by multiple government agencies, counts itself lucky if the partisan election referee does not descend to scoring the goals himself on Tuesday.

Ahead of the count, the BJP has orchestrated such euphoria that it’s hard to imagine the amount of ecstasy it would need to ingest to top that high if the outcome indeed goes its way on the morrow. The scheduling of the vote count on the Tuesday after the final day of polling suggests that this levity is not spontaneous combustion but a carefully choreographed caper to allow for positive developments on Monday.

So, after the nation’s Prime Minister, Home Minister and Finance Minister had taken turns all through last week to talk up the stock market, it did open on a historic high on Monday, up 3.8 per cent, before settling into a near-earth orbit. Also, the returns from the Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim Assembly elections came through, each revealing a Putinesque outcome. In Arunachal, the BJP won 46 of the 60 seats, 10 of them uncontested. One seat was spared to the Congress, which once had ruled the frontier state for three decades but found it difficult to field candidates in at least 40 seats.

And then, reports emerged on Monday that the BJP is already planning festivities for its anticipated swearing in ceremony. A “political event” is tipped to be held after the oath-taking, to showcase “cultural heritage” to a VIP audience, including representatives of foreign governments. It’s entirely in character for a party wedded to cultural nationalism to stage such sort of celebrations, but surely it would have be more graceful to wait upon the verdict of the people?

We know from precedent that the BJP’s predilection for premature revelry is tactical. It masquerades as the cockiness of a street cricketer who wins every match because he owns the bat, the ball and the umpire, but in reality is a prefabricated ploy to validate every foul it intends to commit in the hours and days ahead. This tendency to declare the game won before the last ball has been bowled is injurious to democracy and betrays a piratical character in the party. It is deeply insulting to the voter that his verdict has been divined before hand, and leaves the door open to suspicion that one side knew what was in the box before it was even opened.

Whatever be the outcome we will see on Tuesday, it has already been tainted by the unfair conduct of the contest right from the outset. The Congress fought the battle with no access to its coffers. Important leaders of other parties were incarcerated for specious causes. Mainstream media was muzzled and social media practitioners worked within tramlines tightly drawn by internet platforms eager to do the bidding of the government. Even a newcomer company like OpenAI scurried to participate in a laughable crackdown on dissenting content creators, allegedly working out of Israel of all locations. And then, the Election Commission turned a deaf ear to the barrage of hate speech by none other than the Prime Minister himself. On every count, this has been an unequal election. A victory in such a contest could only prove Pyrrhic to our democracy.

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