The announcement of the Assembly election schedule for the States of Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and the Union Territory of Puducherry have created misgivings about the impartiality of the Election Commission of India among the non-NDA parties as the BJP has emerged as a serious contender to capture power in West Bengal and Puducherry and to make its presence felt in Kerala and Tamil Nadu assemblies.

The Tamil Nadu government of the AIADMK wanted the ECI to withhold announcing the schedule till 4 pm on Friday so that it could hurriedly pass legislation to include the Pattali Makkal Katchi in the AIADMK-led alliance in which the BJP is the leading partner. S Ramdoss, founder-leader of the PMK, had demanded an internal quota of 10.5 per cent reservation for the Vanniyars, the caste group he leads, to remain in the AIADMK alliance.

The government pushed through legislation to temporarily provide for 10.5 per cent special reservation for Vanniyars within the quota for the Most Backward Classes and Denotified Communities on Friday afternoon before the Model Code of Conduct kicked in. The Bill was passed by a voice vote in the absence of Opposition parties which have boycotted the Assembly.

The ECI announced the election schedule at 6 pm. In West Bengal, where the BJP has positioned itself as the main opposition to the ruling Trinamool Congress, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has questioned the reasons for the ECI to hold the election in eight phases. In South 24 Parganas, the stronghold of Trinamool, the election will be held in three phases. The Chief Minister wanted to know whether it was done at the instruction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

With more than 18 crore electors spread over 824 constituencies, voting takes place from March 27 to April 29 and counting will be held on 2 May. The Citizens’ Commission on Elections and many opposition political parties have expressed apprehensions about the long gap between the casting of votes and counting.

The ECI’s conduct of the 2019 Lok Sabha election had led to grave doubts about its fairness, which had always been its greatest strength. When patent infirmities were pointed out by responsible citizens, some of whom were retired civil servants who had conducted elections, the ECI neither sought to defend itself nor responded to criticism. There were discrepancies in the voter turnout, votes polled data on the Electronic Voting Machines and the votes counted in 373 constituencies. In two constituencies the difference was 18,331 and 17,871 votes in surplus found in the EVMs, too large a number to be explained away.

When an explanation was sought, the ECI pulled down the data from its website. After the final vote was cast, there were video reports from at least 10 different places that new EVMs were moved into strong rooms. ECI claimed these were reserve EVMs, but provided no explanation why they were moved just before counting rather than at the time of voting. The election processes need to be completely transparent and trustworthy. Little surprise that India is now being seen as a flawed democracy.