The Nationalist Congress Party and the Communist Party of India-Marxist are the only two parties which agreed to participate in the Election Commission’s election voting machine hacking challenge, but the Aam Aadmi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which were the most vociferous in questioning the reliability of the machines, decided to stay away.
The EC announced on Friday evening that out of eight parties only Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party and the CPI-M accepted the dare. Friday was the last date to enlist for the challenge.
Earlier, the EC had said only the NCP had accepted the challenge but later it clarified that the CPI-M had also expressed its interest in the exercise.
The EC said the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s application was received by e-mail at 5.39 pm and it missed the 5 pm deadline. Thus, its application stood rejected.
The challenge would take place on June 3 between 10 am and 2 pm at Nirvachan Sadan, the EC headquarters, a poll panel spokesperson said.
There will be two counters for the two parties to try and hack the machines. Both will get four hours each for the task.
As per the framework chalked out by the EC, each participating party can have three members and will get four hours to prove that the machines can be tampered with.
Each party can use four machines deployed in the recently held assembly polls and the NCP has left the choice of the machines to the EC. Now, the commission will bring few EVMs from Punjab, UP and Uttarakhand for conduct of the challenge,
the spokesperson said.
NCP’s Rajya Sabha MP Vandana Chavan will lead the party’s team for the challenge. Gaurav Jachak, said to be an advocate, and Yasin Hussain Shaikh, an IT expert, are the other members of the NCP team.
While the BSP has so far not given reasons for not participating, the AAP wondered why the EC -- “an institution that has always protected democracy” -- was not ready for an open hackathon to safeguard the country’s election process.
Both the AAP and the Congress also demanded access to EVM’s motherboard, saying without it, the challenge was not practical.
Delhi Deputy Chief Minister and AAP leader Manish Sisodia said a perception was being created that AAP has backtracked from hackathon.
“Is the EC holding a hackathon? The EC is itself saying that it is not holding any hackathon, then from where did the question of backtracking come from.
“You (the EC) are saying not to touch, open the machines or carry any tool for the exercise. You are asking to challenge it. You cannot simply keep the machine before us and then ask us to hack it. It is the EC that has backtracked. If you want to hack the machines then you should allow us to touch it,” he said.
The Congress said the “extensive terms and conditions” that the challenge imposes prevents challengers to conduct a thorough test of the EVMs.
“We urge you to reconsider relaxing rules of the challenge and their inclusion undermines the very credibility of the initiative,” the party said.
The poll panel had invited seven national and 49 state recognised parties for the challenge but had kept away independents and smaller parties which had contested polls in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa.
Foreign experts too have been barred.
In the 2009 challenge, the commission had brought in 100 EVMs from across India and had allowed independent experts to prove that the machines can be tampered with. No one, the EC claims, was able to hack into the machines.
After the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, the BSP and AAP had questioned the reliability of the machines.
Later, several opposition parties had urged the EC to revert to paper ballot, saying the faith of the people in EVMs had eroded.
A demand of the AAP to tamper with the motherboard of the machine was rejected by the commission. It said change in circuits would mean the EVM was no longer the one used by the commission.