Several irregularities have been found in the pattern of the General Election 2019 results that suggest either the election results underwent electoral manipulation or precise control of the ruling establishment under PM Narendra Modi.
The irregularities have been found in a research paper recently published under the title ‘Democratic Backsliding in the World’s largest Democracy’ by a researcher Sabyasachi Das of the Ashoka University.
“If the Election Commission and/or the Government of India have any answers available to refute these arguments, they should provide them in detail,” demanded the Congress MP Shashi Tharoor in his tweet. “How can someone in the name of half-baked research discredit India’s vibrant poll process,” questioned the BJP MP Nishikant Dubey? However, Ashoka University has distanced itself by saying that it was dismayed by the speculation and debate the paper has triggered.
However, the question – Were the 2019 election results were manipulated or controlled? – remained unanswered, especially in response to the finding of the research paper by the Assistant Professor of Economics in Ashoka University Sabyasachi Das.
McCrary test was performed and the result was interpreted, the paper says. “While the result is consistent with possible manipulation of the election results in favour of the BJP, the incumbent party, it is not the only interpretation. Alternatively, it could be that BJP, being the incumbent, was able to exercise ‘precise control’ over win margin, ie, it was able to precisely predict win margins, especially in constituencies where close contest was expected, and was able to affect it, thanks to its comparative advantage in electoral campaigning and greater access to resources.”
The paper says that McCrary test was also performed in the seven state assembly elections in 2019, four of which went to poll simultaneously. The test result does not exhibit failure of this test, and the same hold good for the elections held in 2020 and 2021. If the “precise control” mechanism were responsible for the Lok Sabha election results, the we should expect it at work at state levels elections as well, but I did not find that, the researcher said. His statement implies that the Lok Sabha election results were manipulated.
The same McCrary test was performed in BJP vs Non-BJP ruled states. For BJP ruled states, the density shows an even larger discontinuous jump to the right of the threshold. For non-BJP ruled states, the jump was muted. The test shows overall failure primarily driven by constitutencies in the BJP ruled states, while do not exhibit differential patterns in non-BJP ruled states in the previous two general elections.
The results are consistent with both mechanisms. Having control over the state’s bureaucratic machinery can help a party target its manipulation efforts better, especially in a context where widespread manipulation is hard to implement given the intense media attention during elections and a vocal rival political parties. It is also consistent with precise control if being in power at the state government helps in mobilizing party workers at the ground.
On evidence on manipulation, the paper says that manipulation of elections can take place at one of three stages of elections. First, at the time of voter registration, in the form of targeted deletion of names of voters who are unlikely to vote for the incumbent party. The paper refers it as registration manipulation. Second, at the time of voting, when polling officers can strategically discriminate against registered voters, who are likely to vote against BJP. Finally, manipulation can take place at the time of counting of votes.
Distinguishing between voting and counting manipulation is difficult, however, the paper says, “Barring one analysis that comments directly on counting manipulation, the rest of the evidence are consistent with both voting and counting manipulation.” Hence the paper calls it a turnout manipulation.
On registration manipulation, the paper estimated the patter of deletion of voter’s names from the electoral roll. The data were compared in both lower Muslim shares and higher Muslim share constituencies, and also BJP and non-BJP ruled states. The comparison of the data showed disproportionate and strategic deletion of Muslim voters.
Under the head “Turnout Manipulation: EVM Turnout Data Discrepancy” the paper says that it analyzed the turnout figures for 373 constituencies out of 543 in the country. In 64 per cent of the parliamentary constituencies the turnout was revised up, and in the rest of the cases ie in 36 per cent of the PCs it was revised down. The paper computed the absolute difference in vote tallies between the two reports and found the median difference 358, the 90th and 95th percentile difference were 3302 and 7357, respectively. The largest mismatch was of 57,747 votes in the Gautam Buddha Nagar constituency in Uttar Pradesh. If the mismatch occurred due to some administrative errors or glitches in the EVM, then “large” discrepancies were expected to be randomly spread across PCs with different BJP Win margins.
The paper found that the PCs that BJP barely won have 26 percentage point larger likelihood of having a “large” mismatch than PCs that BJP barely lost. The result implied that the sample of closely contested constituencies that were disproportionately won by BJP also has a disproportionately higher likelihood of “large” turnout revision. The result is consistent with the manipulation hypothesis even as demonstrated in McCrary test. Discrepancy was observed larger in BJP ruled states than the non-BJP ruled states.
The paper also pointed out discontinuity in turnout difference, and says that the turnout data discrepancy went up in PCs barely won by BJP. The paper suggested turnout manipulation not at the ECI level but the local level, at the polling station, could be either at the time of voting or counting. And it was at least party facilitated by weaker monitoring during counting.
While discussing counting manipulation, the paper gives an analysis of assignment of Counting Observers. It found more politically pliant counting observers assigned in PCs barely won by BJP, and the patter is concentrated in BJP ruled states. It also finds irregularities in polling station outcomes.
In the past few years, the credibility of the ECI has been called into question, with a range of allegation of bias in scheduling elections to favouring the ruling party in several ways. The paper has pointed out two versions of EVM turnout data. The ECI initially published “Final Voter Turnout” figures for the first four (out of seven) phases of the 2019 general election. These figures reflect the PC wise number of votes polled in EVMs. These number however do not match with the PC wise number of votes counted in the EVMs. The new media pointed out this discrepancy in the data, following which the ECI removed the “Final Voter Turnout” figures from its website.(IPA Service)