There is a growing clamour against Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) in India, after the 2019 general elections. Countries like Germany, Holland and Ireland have banned EVM. Japan and Singapore subscribe to ballot boxes, but EVM is gospel for Election Commission of India (ECI), hence EVM is now to stay.
The entire opposition against BJP has been drubbed and BJP led NDA has romped home with a plus 350 mark in India’s 17th Lok Sabha. The SP-BSP alliance could not get the desired results in UP as BJP decimated the alliance with the same gusto by notching 62 and the alliance finished with 15, out of the total 80 seats. BSP supremo Mayawati has raised eyebrows on EVM after the disastrous outcome. Now please take a back turn to UP Assembly 2017 elections, the outgoing SP CM Akhilesh had then not even made a whimper but Mayawati in the same fervor had questioned EVM. Why? Let me point out here that out of 86/403 reserved seats in UP, where the voters of Scheduled Castes and Muslims are far above 50%, BJP and its allies had won 77 of them. This had rattled BSP, as should it be construed that Jatav-the traditional vote base of BSP and Muslims had voted for BJP? This is what needs a concrete reply, as this question has sounded a death knell to every political party with the exception of BJP.
There are multiple reasons why BJP could run havoc for opposition, the masterstroke of which it played to the hilt, was to posit it as a contest between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. Rahul as it has been time-and-again proven, during the last five years, even after he became president of Congress, could not sloth beyond his floundering indulgence on every precarious situation i.e. when he was needed the most. Be it was on demonitisation, Justice Loya death, SC judges holding press-conference crying democracy at stake, farmer suicides, on absconders like Lalit Modi, Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Mehul Choski. Mahesh Shah and Jay Amit Shah, stupendous rise in wealth, CBI V’s CBI or RBI mishandling, the nation could not find any ‘fast unto death’ by Rahul, after all, that could be expected from the leader of the principal opposition party. Surprisingly he waxed eloquence on EVM too but that was too late. “Our problems with EVMs in India remains,” he said after Dec 2018 elections in four states.
Much nagging since 2014 has happened over EVM, which saw a stupendous rise of BJP at Center, then the same in 2017 (UP) until today. Election Commission of India has time and again stated that EVMs are fool-proof and no devil can dare flinch on it. But as millions of citizens in India cannot we as ordinary people seek to demand for a ballot over EVMs? The basic alibi for EVM what ECI gives is that it saves invalid votes and saves time for result-declaration, but its purpose has been defeated by ECI itself as elections are held for over a period of months now, despite the great rise in technology and infrastructure. It may be mentioned here that after a sustained opposition, the Modi government-I had to concur for Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) on every EVM but that alone could not allay the fears of opposition, as the entire opposition went to Supreme Court for a hundred-percent verification of EVM-VVPAT which finally was dismissed by SC as ‘nuisance’ on May 22. SC had earlier directed ECI to ‘verification-tally’ on at least five polling stations randomly picked from every assembly segment.
Modi government-II is on an all time high as ‘EVMs being changed’, ‘missing 19 lac EVMs’ et all accusations, by opposition-parties, will be parried as ‘an embarrassed cat scratching the pillar’ and soon this chorus will die in the victory euphoria but will it be able to silence the simmering discontent of millions who just do not stake their faith in EVM form of democracy? No wonder in UP the common refrain was Hum to bhaiiya EVM ko hi vote de kar aaye hain (Friend, I voted to only EVM). Will it not be worth pondering that after Yogi government in UP (2017), the state capital, Lucknow woke up to a rude shock when the state government raided dozens of petrol-pumps in Lucknow and found a chip-installed inside ‘petrol-pourer’ which fiddled with petrol measurements! Would anyone in Lucknow believe, to have been swindled of their millions, by the crafty petrol pump owners until then? Do not we listen that hackers sitting abroad sucking into our ‘fool-proof’ bank accounts? These are everyday examples how technology can be ‘fiddled-with’ but ECI maintains that EVMs are not 99.9 but 24 carat gold, in the wake of declining peoples trust when the fact of the matter is that elections are a five-years exam whose result affect everyone including NOTA.
Now with SC finally shutting the doors on anything unwarranted on EVM it is clear that nation will have to reel under the same, where millions are beggars, rickshaw pullers, daily labourers and illiterates in comparison to Germany, where people are far more educated and technology savvy, but the Germany SC has already ordered in March 2009 that “electronic voting is un-constitutional because the average citizen cannot be expected to understand the exact steps involved in the recording and tallying of votes of EVMs”. EVMs are banned in Germany, Holland and Ireland. Japan and Singapore subscribe to ballot boxes, but our ECI clings as if it is far too holier than thou to entertain any aspersion on voting through EVM, whereas in today’s world ‘election-hacking’ has become a commercial game, find an article published in Tablet Magazine- Did An Israeli Company Hack Zimbabwe Elections? (Feb 28, 2017).
How can ECI therefore address the cardinal question which can sustain peoples trust forever? It can devise a plan to ascribe to ‘two-printouts’ after the vote, one to be in ECI possession and the other given to the voter, with an assigned number, which could be later counter-checked too. This will address the problem of bogus-voting and verifying the EVM-VVPAT forever and also put to rest the issue of EVM changing, hacking and missing-all in one go. This would help New India (of Modi) empowering its voting system from any meddling as it would be akin to treating ones vote as ones bank account. But, am I just engaged in wishful-thinking.
The writer in a lawyer, journalist and former UP State Information Commissioner.