The Lok Sabha elections under a “wave of authoritarianism” and suppression of Opposition voices by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is “as good as rigged”, economist Jean Drèze told PTI on Sunday.

Drèze said that five years ago, writer Arundhati Roy had described the 2019 Lok Sabha polls as a race between a Ferrari and a few bicycles as a metaphor for the competition between the BJP and the Opposition parties.

“The metaphor is still valid,” Drèze told the news agency. “Today, thanks to the Supreme Court, we know that the Ferrari [BJP] is fuelled by the corporate sector. Meanwhile, the bicycles, symbolising the main opposition parties in the state such as Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress are systematically targeted.”

Drèze was referring to the Supreme Court verdict that struck down the electoral bond scheme as unconstitutional saying it could foster quid pro quo relationships between donors and political parties. The court had directed the State Bank of India to reveal data on donations made to political parties through the scheme. The BJP received the lion’s share of the donations through the bonds, according to the data revealed by the State Bank of India.

Drèze added that Opposition leaders have been facing relentless scrutiny and harassment by central agencies for years under the BJP government.

“Former Jharkhand chief minister [Hemant] Soren finds himself behind the bars, [Rashtriya Janata Dal chief] Lalu Prasad Yadav has faced intermittent periods of incarceration, and Rahul Gandhi narrowly avoided a similar fate in addition to Congress’ accounts being frozen,” he said. “Any politician who presents a danger to the BJP is at risk of harassment. In these circumstances, the elections are as good as rigged.”

However, he welcomed the decision of the Opposition parties to come together to defeat the BJP and said that it may make a big difference in results for this year’s polls.

Voting will take place in seven phases between April 19 and June 1. The votes will be counted on June 4.

Also read: Will the upcoming Indian election be free and fair?

Opposition lost its power due to disunity, says Amartya Sen

The Opposition INDIA bloc has failed to gain much traction and some of its important allies such as the Janata Dal (United) and Rashtriya Lok Dal have walked out, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen told PTI on Sunday.

Both the parties have joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

“The Opposition in India lost a lot of its power due to its disunity,” Sen told the news agency. “Unity would have given it much more strength. Congress has many organisational problems that need remedying. The party’s great past should inspire it.”

He also said that while the Opposition’s pitch for a nationwide caste census is a good initiative, the country needs more steps to empower the marginalised communities. “A caste census may be a good exercise to consider, but what India needs most is greater empowerment for the underprivileged through better education, healthcare and gender equity,” he said.

Also read: ‘Junk EVMs, bring back ballot’: Cloud of mistrust hangs over polls in western UP