By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, May 18 (IANS) With the countdown for the counting of votes for the Lok Sabha polls having begun, suspense punctuated by an unusual phobia over the gaminess of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) has gripped various opposition parties and their leaders in Maharashtra.
The EVMs, which were first used in 50 polling stations in the 1981 by-poll to the North Paravur Assembly constituency in Kerala, are now looked upon as an enigma.
Given that most opposition parties believe that the EVMs could be manipulated, they are keeping their fingers crossed.
Though the elections in the state were completed on April 29, there is a lot of trepidation in the minds of all the political parties who hope for the best and prepare for the worst ahead of the declaration of election results on May 23.
The state, along with the rest of the country, witnessed a bitter campaign for its 48 Lok Sabha seats between the two main contenders -- the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena alliance and the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine.
"The suspense is killing. I can't wait too long for the authorities to open the EVMs which will be unlocked on the morning of May 23," said a leader close to the Congress candidate contesting from one of the constituencies in Mumbai.
Politicians are also wondering what will be the impact of the over a dozen "poll-eve migrations" on their respective parties and candidates and whether the scions of political families would continue their influence.
Among the many crossovers, prominent were those of Congress leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil's son, Sujay Vikhe-Patil, and senior NCP leader and ex-deputy Chief Minister Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil's son Ranjitsinh Mohite-Patil, both of whom jumped ship to the BJP.
Then there is worry over the impact of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's rallies in the state in which he primarily targeted NCP President Sharad Pawar and his family members.
Buoyed by Modi's repeated attacks on the state's numero uno political family, other BJP leaders joined the chorus and publicly vowed to permanently "eliminate" the Pawars from state politics, but the Pawars laughed it off.
However, this seemed to have rebounded on the BJP from an altogether unexpected direction in the form of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) President Raj Thackeray.
The MNS did not contest a single seat this elections, but Thackeray held around 10 rallies and launched vitriolic attacks on the ruling BJP-Sena combine and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the key constituencies which attracted enthusiastic crowds.
With embarrassing audio-visual presentations which pushed the ruling combine to the walls, there is huge 'suspense' as to what impact will Thackeray's rallies have on the election outcome, and if this could be a harbinger of things to come in the upcoming Assembly elections in the state.
In a first, Maharashtra witnessed a volatile Dalit-Muslim force -- the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) -- a combination of Bharipa Bahujan Mahajan and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, which jointly contested all the 48 seats in the state.
The VBA led to tremors in both the BJP-Sena and Congress-NCP alliances for its untried potential to snatch away the crucial Dalit-Muslim votes, which could potentially spell doom for several prominent contestants, including Union Minister Nitin Gadkari and former Congress Union Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, among others.
Annoyed by the promises not materialising even as a severe drought confronts the state, there is 'suspense' over which way the farmers' ire may have vented in the EVMs.
In the past few years, farmland suicides have shown no sign of abatement and 2019 also marked the 25th year since distressed farmers ending their lives in frustration was formally documented by Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti chief Kishore Tiwari.
"There is visible discontent in the farmlands in Maharashtra and rest of the country over unfulfilled commitments in the past five years and the people have given their verdict through EVMs," said Tiwari in a mysterious tone.
For the first time in Independent India, some top players of the India Inc. came out in open support of the Congress candidate from Mumbai South and former Minister Milind M. Deora, sending panic-waves among the BJP-Sena combine on 'the hidden message'.
Though both the parties have chosen not to publicly comment on the ramifications, social media circles gleefully attribute it to 'winds of change' sensed by the country's business comity.
For the ruling combine, the real impact of the Balakot air strike, and the subsequent national debates on it, is a matter of apprehension, especially for the youth and the first time voters.
The effects of inflation, rising fuel prices and increasing costs of living, which have made domestic budgets go haywire, and the seething rage among the homemakers have only added to the 'suspense'.
"Contrary to speculation, the middle and lower middle class may not opt for status quo, but show silent vendetta through the EVMs," said Trade Unions Joint Action Committee (TUJAC) Convenor Vishwas Utagi.
Finally, there is suspicion -- more than suspense -- among many opposition parties and politicians over the much-maligned EVMs, for which they made rounds of the Supreme Court, but were unsuccessful.
There is a strong clamour among the opposition parties to scrap the EVMs, which they allege are 'unreliable', and revert to the time-tested ballot paper voting, as many other countries have already done.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted as firstname.lastname@example.org)