BJP’s massive victory in Uttar Pradesh has stunned the opposition leaders into silence. But there was one that spoke: BSP leader Mayawati. The Dalit leader was rather upfront when she blamed tampering of electronic voting machines (EVM) for her party’s near annihilation in the polls.
“Either the EVMs did not accept votes other than BJP, or the votes of other parties have gone to BJP in the EVMs,” Mayawati said. “Looks like voting machines have not accepted any vote from another party than BJP,” she added.
While her claims could be easily dismissed as a desperate last-ditch posturing by a ‘bad loser’, can the more critical issue regarding the vulnerability of EVMs be ignored as easily?
BJP leaders blamed EVMs too
Politicians and media have very short memories. While the BJP and its supporters are mocking Mayawati for raising doubts over possible EVM tampering, they seem to have forgotten that the saffron party’s top leaders were the first ones to raise serious questions over the credibility of these electronic devices following their drubbing in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections in the hands (no pun intended!) of the Congress.
So much so, that in 2010 BJP’s prominent spokesperson GVL Narasimha went ahead and wrote a book on the topic (Democracy at Risk! Can we trust our Electronic Voting Machines?) with a foreword by party’s then PM-in-waiting L K Advani. The book is still selling on Amazon at $10.62.
Another BJP leader Subramanian Swamy has been among the most vocal leaders to challenge the credibility of EVMs. Swamy, in his inimitable modus operandi, also moved the Supreme Court on the issue and the apex court ordered the poll panel to introduce ‘paper trail’ to EVMs through the country. Listen to what Swamy had to say about EVMs below.
Meanwhile in 2010, a trio of scientists – Hari K. Prasad, Rop Gonggrijp and J. Alex Halderman – claimed India’s EVMs are vulnerable to fraud. They refuted claims of security made by the Election Commission and demonstrated how they can hack into the EVMs.
Besides, there are several videos doing the rounds, including the one below, which shows how vulnerable these electronic devices are to external manipulation.
Questions about EVMs have been raised in the Maharashtra local bodies poll held last month as well, with many candidates from nearly all the parties in fray protesting against the result.
Supreme Court orders paper trails to EVMS
Moving on Swamy’s petition, the Supreme Court in October 2013 had directed the Election Commission of India (ECI) to introduce the EVMs with Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system in gradual stages to ensure complete transparency and achieve confidence of voters in EVMs.
In the VVPAT system, when a voter presses the button for a candidate of his choice in the EVM, a paper ballot containing the serial number, name of the candidate and poll symbol would be printed for the voter.
The VVPAT is intended as an independent verification system for voting machines designed to allow voters to verify that their votes were cast correctly, to detect possible election fraud or malfunction and to provide a means to audit the stored electronic results.
With the ECI and Central government moving at a snail’s pace on the matter, the apex court in January this year reiterated the necessity to implement VVPAT in EVMs ahead of the recently concluded assembly elections in five states.
Following which, the ECI decided to use VVPAT for the first time in all the 40 seats of Goa while in Uttar Pradesh it was used only in 20 of the total 403 seats. But a compulsory VVPAT is still a work in progress, without an official deadline being declared by the ECI.
EVMs banned in several countries
One may laugh at Mayawati’s allegations of EVM fraud, but the larger concern that she raises about EVM fraud can’t simply be brushed aside.
There are serious questions about these machines, which is why many developed countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland and Italy have banned their use in elections. Many states in the United States have banned EVMs if they do not accompany a paper trail.
Countries such as Venezuela, Macedonia and Ukraine stopped using EVMs following reports of massive rigging. On the other hand, England and France have never used EVMs and they do not have any plans to do so in future.
Disregarding Mayawati’s vital warning on EVMs in the long run would mean compromising on the fundamental foundation of democracy – that of a free and fair election. BJP must pay heed to the questions raised by their own erudite spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao viz. Democracy at Risk! Can we trust our Electronic Voting Machines?
(The author is a Gulf-based Indian journalist. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent those of JantaKaReporter)