Blame it on EVM If You Can’t Swallow the results

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After Mayawati, it was the turn of AAP supremo and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Wednesday to blame the humble EVM for the unfavourable (for them) results of the just concluded round of Assembly elections in five states. Regardless of the merit of her charge, Mayawati’s allegation was at least understandable. But the theory propounded by Kejriwal today was so preposterous that it has evoked more mirth than outrage. The AAP chief would like us to believe that the NDA government organized EVM tampering on a gigantic scale to ensure that the BJP wins in Uttar Pradesh but conspired to hand over Punjab to Congress on a platter just to keep AAP out of power! And pray, what was the basis of his allegation? The pre-election assessment of Dr Prannoy Roy and Shekhar Gupta, who had apparently seen an AAP wave sweeping the Majha region!! Things can’t get more ridiculous than this. His response to a question on why EVMs were not tampered with during the Delhi and Bihar elections was even more hilarious. “The people who tamper EVMs, they should answer why they didn’t do so in Delhi and Bihar?” said the man whose national ambitions fell flat on the face after the results of the recent elections.

When this author asked in a Facebook post immediately after the election results why the BJP would do it in UP and not in Punjab, Manipur and Goa, states where it failed to get a majority, a friend helpfully pointed out that ‘because a win in UP would alter the BJP’s standing in the Rajya Sabha in a way that a victory in the other states can’t’!

Make no mistake. An individual EVM machine, as scientists have shown, can indeed be tampered with. But to extrapolate this to conclude that such an exercise was undertaken across thousands of voting booths in a state as populous as Uttar Pradesh – as politicians and sections of the media have done –  is to stretch credulity a bit too far. For one thing, it is ridiculous to claim that the BJP led government carried out a hatchet job on such a scale without the Akhilesh Yadav government getting wind of it (it is significant that the outgoing UP CM did not make any such charge on his own, but called for an investigation only after Mayawati raised the issue). For another, far too many people – local police personnel, central paramilitary forces, Election Commission observers, independent video/photographers, media personnel and hundreds of voters – are involved in an Indian election for someone to even attempt to rig voting on such a large scale. Given that state government officials are involved in a big way in the conduct of elections, it is impossible for any Central government to carry out such an elaborate exercise in a state – especially when it is ruled by another party – and then keep it a secret. In any case, the introduction of a paper trail, which enables recounting in case of a dispute, should put all doubts about tampering to rest.

The people making these allegations are perhaps not aware (may be they are!) that a demonstration is carried out on EVMs to be used in the voting in the presence of representatives of all political parties a day before the polls to show that the machines have not been compromised. The exercise is repeated an hour before actual polling to make sure everything is above board. It is only after all parties certify that the EVMs are working fine that polling begins. As the Election Commission pointed out in its letter to Satish Chandra Mishra, national general secretary of BSP, rejecting his charge, “The full Commission made repeated visits to Uttar Pradesh and Uttarkhand and met the representatives of all parties, including your party. No one raised any objection with regard to functioning of EVMs at these meetings. The Commission has thus not received any complaints during the entire process of elections in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand with regard to your allegation of grave manipulation of EVMs.”

The call made by the Doubting Thomases for a return to the ballot paper is laughable to say the least. They have perhaps forgotten that booth capturing, large scale bogus voting and a huge number of invalid votes used to be the ban of the Indian electoral process in the days of the ballot paper. EVMs, while not 100% foolproof, have certainly brought a semblance of order in what used to be a disorderly process. The demand for doing away with EVMs and going back to ballot papers therefore amounts to a call for anarchy. The demand, if any, should be add more safety measures to make the EVM even less vulnerable to manipulation than it already is.

When the likes of Mayawati and Kejriwal do it, it is understandable. But when respected media houses, journalists and commentators raise the EVM bogie, it can mean only one thing: they are simply unable to reconcile themselves to the scale of the BJP’s victory in UP. It is no coincidence that those at the forefront of the ‘Junk EVM’ movement now are precisely the people who were predicting – more in hope than on the basis of any ground reality – that the BJP would bite the dust in the state.

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