The claims that electronic voting machines are hackable by a self-proclaimed cyber expert set off a major political wrangling on Tuesday with the Congress demanding a probe into these allegations, saying they concern the “survival of democracy” and the Bharatiya Janata Party dubbing them a “Congress-sponsored conspiracy” designed to “defame” Indian democracy and its Election Commission.
The poll panel also filed a complaint with the Delhi Police, asking it to register an FIR against Syed Shuja, who during a press conference in London on Monday claimed that the Electronic Voting Machines can be hacked, and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections were rigged.
In its complaint, the poll panel asked the police to investigate the matter “promptly” for violation of certain sections of the Indian Penal Code dealing with spreading rumour to alarm and “create fear” in the minds of the public.
Launching a stinging attack on the Congress over the presence of its leader Kapil Sibal at the press conference in London where Shuja made these allegations through Skype, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “What was Sibal doing there? In what capacity was he present? My charge is that he was there to monitor the event for the Congress. It was a Congress-sponsored conspiracy designed to defame Indian democracy and its EC.”
The minister also dubbed the London presser a “Congress-scripted exercise”.
Hitting back at Prasad, Sibal said he has made an “irresponsible statement, not befitting the office he holds”.
“This is an issue of free and fair elections. The issue is whether the EVMs can be tampered with. This is an issue concerning the survival of democracy in India,” he told reporters in London.
“There should be an inquiry in the charges he (Shuja) has made. The Supreme Court and the law says there should be an FIR. It is your responsibility, if someone is making allegations it is important to ascertain whether the charges are right or not. If the charges are wrong, take action against him. If they are right, then it is a very serious thing,” Sibal asserted
Apart from the Congress, several opposition parties, including the Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party, Telugu Desam Party expressed serious concerns over the matter and asked the EC to take note of it. The BSP and TDP demanded that the upcoming Lok Sabha polls be held using ballot papers instead of EVMs.
“The latest revelations have made the doubts on the EVMs more serious. It is better under such conditions that the future elections, especially the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, be conducted using ballot papers which can be verified at three levels unlike the EVMs,” BSP chief Mayawati said in a statement.
Questioning the use of EVMs, which are not even used by the more advanced nations, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav said, “Why does a country like Japan, which is very advanced in science and technology, is not using the EVMs? The question should be raised among the nation’s 130 crore people.”
TDP chief and Andhara Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu said the EVMs were turning out to be a “big threat” to democracy and advised his party rank and file to be alert in view of the claims by “hackers”.
Prasad also told reporters that the Indian Journalists’ Association, which had organised the conference, is headed by Ashis Ray who, he claimed, is a “committed Congressman”.
In a statement, Ray said, “Both IJA and Foreign Press Association organised the press meet -- as we routinely do -- in good faith. Following the controversy, FPA has ‘disassociated’ itself from the event. Admittedly, the accusations made by Ahmed were very serious; which he could not substantiate them... Since IJA had nothing to hide and we particularly wished to be open and transparent in this instance, we invited the ECI and all Indian political recognised by the ECI as national parties to attend the meet.”
“I consider it my right to explore news with unfettered freedom. In hindsight we can say Ahmed (Shuja) disappointed. But that does not mean we should not have listened to him,” Ray said.
Shuja’s claim that he was part of a Electronic Corporation of India Ltd team that designed and developed EVMs was rejected by the public sector undertaking, saying, “The records of this company have been verified and it is found that Mr Syed Shuja has neither been in the rolls of ECIL as a regular employee nor was he in any way associated in the design and development of EVMs in ECIL produced between 2009 to 2014.”