K. P. Fabian is an Indian Diplomat who served in the Indian Foreign Service between 1964 and 2000, during which time he was posted to Madagascar, Austria, Iran, Sri Lanka, Canada, Finland, Qatar and Italy.
We are witnessing the periodical festival of democracy with 900 million of our fellow citizens entitled to vote in a million polling booths. However, the answer to the question is not easy. There are indications that the polling might not be free and fair. In a free and fair election, the voter should be able to examine her vote as recorded and to complain to the polling official in case of doubt without the fear of being sent to jail. This is not the case especially after the introduction of the EVM and a few years later of VVPAATS.
On 23rd April, Harekrishna Deka, former DGP of Assam and a famous writer, found that the VVPAAT did not record correctly his choice. However, he decided not to risk lodging a complaint as he could be sentenced to imprisonment up to six months under section 177 of the IPC if he is unable to 'prove' his complaint.
What is significant is that a younger man ran the risk that Deka avoided. The same day, Ebin Babu, 21, in Thiruvananthapuram, lodged a complaint. As he voiced his complaint he was admonished by the polling official of the possibility of his being arrested by police under section 177 of the IPC. Ebin persisted and filled up Form 49MA. Sometime later, Ebin voted again in the presence of the polling official and the representatives of the candidates. This time, the voting was recorded correctly and Ebin was handed over to the police.
A few logical questions arise. First, just because the EVM recorded the vote correctly at 12.45 a.m.it does not follow that it would have recorded it correctly in the first instance at 10.30 a.m. Second, there have been a number of complaints of the malfunctioning of EVMs. The media have reported that in Kerala alone there were 7 booths with malfunctioning EVMs in Alathur, 11 in Palakkad, 7 in Kasargod, and 10 in Pathanamthitta, to mention only some. Shashi Tharoor has remarked that it was “very curious” that “all the EVM malfunctions seem to benefit only one particular party” and that “all the malfunction somehow seems to go towards the lotus”. Till now, we have not come across any such complaint from BJP candidates anywhere in India. Obviously, this matter needs investigation. It is equally obvious that the EC has shown inertia, to put it mildly. The reader might recall that the Supreme Court had to remind the EC that it has teeth. The reader will also recall that the EC has deliberately refrained from taking action against the candidate Narendra Modi even as he violated the Model Code of Conduct repeatedly correctly calculating that he has impunity.
Apart from EC's inertia, the key question is whether and if so how the EVMs can be tampered with. Election Commission's categorical assertions reiterated from time to time do not amount to proof. Nor do they carry conviction. We know of a bank clerk who had amended the software in the bank making it mandatory for a few cents to be credited to his personal account every time a transaction was made. He amassed a lot of money before he was found out. In short, tampering is possible and the EC should prove it has not happened and it is not enough to assert that tampering is impossible.
The VVPAATS were introduced in 2013 as a check on 'malfunctioning' EVMs. Imagine putting a chip to the VVPAATS system that ensures the same result as in the EVM. In short, in a situation where both the EVM and the VVPAAT are tampered, there will be no way of finding that out. That Deka and Ebin could see that the VVPAAT had recorded wrongly their votes raises the possibility of simultaneous tampering of EVM and VVPAATS.
One or two questions more arise. Is it possible to tamper before the day of counting as in some cases there is a gap of more than a month between voting and counting? Do the representatives of the candidates have access on a 24/7 basis? Can any tampering be done during the counting? These questions have been raised but we have not come across any satisfactory answers so far from the Election Commission. The EC has been most reluctant to arrange for cross-verification between EVM counting and VVPAATS counting. It arranges for such verification only for a polling booth in an assembly constituency. In other words, out of one million polling booths, in the 2019 general election verification is done only in less than 5,000. This works out to less than 0.5%.
A group of three, including the author, filed a case in the Supreme Court. We argued that statistics required cross verification of at least 30 % and produced findings from eminent statisticians. Unfortunately for us, the opposition political parties also stepped in asking for 50% cross verification. The Court gave more time to the advocate of the political parties and ours hardly got anytime.
Let us focus on what can be done right now. First, a PIL should be filed in the Supreme Court to suspend the rule that prevents an honest voter from lodging a complaint. Once a complaint is made without waiting for filling up of forms the polling officer and representatives should rush to the spot and conduct as many numbers of trial voting as necessary. It is absurd to have made Ebin vote again after a time gap and then conclude that his complaint was baseless. If there were tampering in the manner suggested by us earlier, the second time Ebin voted his vote would have been recorded correctly.
Second, we need to review the decision taken to use EVMs. Technology can be useful, but technolatry, worship of technology, is foolish. Germany and some other countries in Europe have discontinued the use of EVMs. We need a national debate to figure out the way forward. Third, the EC should be woken up from its dogmatic slumber and asked to do its job by enforcing its Model Code of Conduct lest India becomes a laughing stock internationally.
(The author is a former diplomat)
Opinion expressed is the personal view of the write and do not reflect the views of the news portal.