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Sai's Take: Why the EC is outvoted on EVMs

May 22, 2019 08:58 IST

'Hopefully, the new majority government will give the country a fool-proof electoral system,' says Saisuresh Sivaswamy.

An election official displays an EVM

It is instructive to recall that soon after the 2004 Lok Sabha election, which the Bharatiya Janata Party lost unexpectedly, the party blamed the new-fangled electronic voting machines for the debacle.

It was the first Lok Sabha election conducted entirely on EVMs, and since then allegations of EVMs being hackable, that the 2004 and 2009 elections, both of which the BJP lost, were stolen, were made regularly.

In fact, in 2010, after losing an election which he thought he was certain to win, the BJP's current Margdarshak Mandal member and then prime ministerial aspirant Lal Kishenchand Advani, along with G V L Narasimha Rao, one of the party's spokespersons today, wrote a book whose title says it all: Democracy at Risk! Can we trust our electronic voting machines?

Today, of course, having won the 2014 election and appearing all set to retain power in 2019, the BJP and its shouting brigade are reticent on the issue, even defending the integrity of the machines which, at the end of the day, like any other device with man at its core, cannot be 100% failsafe.

Given the fears of hacking, which has been demonstrated in the past, including most recently at a suspect press conference in London, it was felt that the voter verified paper audit trail, a sort of hybrid system that combined manual verification with automatic ballot registration, was felt to be the best method.

Again, even this 'reform' was initiated at the behest of the BJP's vocal leader Subramanian Swamy, who had moved the courts against the EVMs.

In short, if the BJP is on the backfoot today over the reliability of the EVMS, it has itself to blame for the shrill campaign it had led against the machines.

Everyone is free to revise their opinion, but not on the basis of whether you are winning or losing the elections.

And that applies to the Opposition as well. Keeping quiet when winning, and raising a shindig when you find yourself on the losing side, is no sign of consistency.

The present instance, of unauthorised movement of EVMs (reported, incidentally, from BJP-ruled states), takes the matter to another level.

The Election Commission simply cannot hope to allay popular misgivings by issuing an anodyne press release; it needs to do much more, because, as Yogendra Yadav pointed out on Mirror Now on Tuesday night, the election process is a sacred one and cannot be allowed to be compromised.

While the political spokespersons as always were pummelling each other over the issue, two former election commissioners, men who have been in the hot seat, offered the most valid viewpoints.

T S Krishnamurthy, videoconferencing from Chennai with Faye D'Souza, was emphatic that the Election Commission must probe such instances of illegal movement of EVMS, and if found valid a repoll must be ordered, especially if the rules governing the transfer of EVMs were not followed.

Yogendra Yadav, who seems to have found a new career as a talking head in TV studios (we are sure to see more of him on May 23), was essentially in agreement with what Krishnamurthy said. 'The onus should be on the EC to satisfy everyone. If there are serious apprehensions, order a repoll.'

The issue, as he said earlier, was too 'sacred' and the poll panel was simply not showing any seriousness in addressing the concerns.

On the 'dissent' within the Election Commission itself, Krishnamurthy said majority judgments are valid.

'When the Supreme Court of India gives a 2-1 order, you don't level charges of bias because of one minority verdict, similarly don't use the bias word because the EC has decided 2-1, it is perfectly valid.'

Yadav wanted to add a caveat to that. What is the harm in recording the dissent, and make it public. 'Otherwise the whole process may seem illegitimate.'

The Congress's Abhishek Manu Singhvi preferred to use the words 'vitiated' and 'tampered with' in his conversation on the subject with Bhupendra Chaubey on CNN-News18.

On a day when the Supreme Court rejected the Opposition's plea to use VVPAT in 100% of polls, and not in just 5 segments in each constituency as ruled earlier by the court, another suggestion from Yadav was to at least do the paper verification at the start of the vote count and not at the end as currently planned.

That way, 'in case of a discrepancy, you can do the paper audit of all the votes in that segment' rather than merely record the discrepancy and rectify it.

'Do you want to be like Pakistan and Bangladesh where the losing sides blame hanky-pankies in the election process?' he asked on Mirror Now.

Vivek Reddy of the BJP added a political twist to the issue, telling NDTV that all these issues 'have been brought up right after the exit poll results', which showed the BJP coming back to power with a bigger majority.

'You are right,' he conceded, 'The Election Commission should have handled the issue better,' but to say that the entire poll process is rigged is too much.

All Opposition parties suspect EVMs, he said, adding that the machines of today were technologically superior to the ones used earlier, a point S Y Quraishi was only too happy to dismantle.

'The basic technology is the same, the only addition is the VVPAT aspect.'

When Desh Ratan Nigam pointed out that the Election Commission cannot be reacting to every social media post, Quraishi once again struck a different tune.

'The Election Commission cannot wait for the social media fire to spread across the country for three days before reacting,' it has to put out the fire quickly, then and there.

Responding to the charge that the Opposition was raising EVMs on the eve of possible adverse results, the Congress's Syed Nasir Hussein told NDTV that they have been raising the issue for weeks now with the Election Commission, but there was no action.

About the charges that the suspect transfer of EVMs as recorded on social media could mean that bogus votes can replace the actual ones in EVMs, Quraishi dismissed it 'alarmism'.

'Such incidents have always been happening.'

Republic TV as always had 10 talking heads being vocal simultaneously, including one panellist from the backseat of a moving car!

Listing the various attempts made to discredit EVMs, the BJP's Navin Kohli on Times Now pointed to the press conference in London by Syed Shuja in January and said, 'It's ludicrous, I can say that I offered a bribe of Rs 1 lakh to Ashutosh here, or he can say that he offered me a bribe of Rs 1 lakh, but will it stand legal scrutiny?'

To which Navika Kumar responded in her typical manner, 'Wellll, ladies and gentlemen, that is the question,' and went on to castigate the 'dhokha dal' of Opposition parties.

The last word was to be had by the knowledgeable Krishnamurthy. 'This election has emphasised the need for electoral reforms.'

Hopefully, the new majority government at the Centre will put it on its 100-day action plan and give the country a fool-proof electoral system.

SAISURESH SIVASWAMY / Rediff.com
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