<b>Fifth Columnist:</b> Winner Takes All
Disgruntled political parties are raising the bogey of fudged EVMs
Before TN Seshan took charge as the country’s chief election commissioner in 1990, the Election Commission of India (ECI) was a largely ceremonial job, whose constitutional status was ill-defined.
The electoral process in the country was then marred by gross irregularities like booth capturing, use of muscle power to capture booths, the dominance of regional and local satraps in influencing election results, collusion of local police forces and other feudal elements who dominated poll proceedings.
Seshan changed all that. From 1990-96, as in charge of the Nirvachan Sadan, the country witnessed the cleanest set of elections ever conducted. He ensured – indeed laid down – the strictest implementation of the election code of conduct, issuance of voter ID cards for all eligible voters, placed limits on how much a candidate could spent in during the course of the election campaign, drafted poll officials from states other than where the elections were being held, posted central para-military forces instead of the local police, ruling out collusion, and several other measures, making India’s elections one of the most raved about in the world.
Two years after Seshan left, he had paved the way for introducing the single most important reform in the electoral arena, the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs).
EVMs were introduced for the first time in 16 assembly constituencies in MP, Rajasthan and Delhi for elections to legislative assemblies held in November 1996.

Since then there has been no looking back. The EVMs have been devised and designed by the Election Commission in collaboration with two public sector undertakings (PSU), Bharat Electronics Ltd, Bangalore and the Electronic Corporation of India, Hyderabad, after a series of meetings, test checking of the prototypes and extensive field trials.
Political parties in the country and election commissions worldwide have welcomed the poll reforms in India, of which the use of EVMs constituted the centerpiece.
This was the prevailing consensus until the rise and rise of a certain Narendra Modi, whose runaway victory in the recent UP assembly elections decimating all opposition, has led to the serious charge that EVMs were rigged.
Political parties, some of whom like the BSP and now the AAP, fear total emasculation, are leading the charge that the BJP victory was a calculated conspiracy rather than an expression of public intent.
While most believe that for the opposition it is a question of sour grapes, the Election Commission of India has decided to hold a meeting of disgruntled political parties to demonstrate that the machines are tamper-proof and secured. Protestors are being told by people in the know that the reason for their electoral defeat lies not in the EVMs, but to their own omissions and commissions.
But try explaining it to politicians, whose future is at stake. There are also those who believe that the Election Commission need not even bother to demonstrate its bonafides. On Friday, the CEC is meeting representatives of 55 parties to put forth its stand on the subject. The rules of the game are transparent with little scope for fudging the system. If anything, demonstrating the intricacies of how machines work is tantamount to exposing the system to hostile elements, which may not be such a good idea.

After all if Arvind Kejriwal is complaining about tampered EVMs after AAP was all but wiped out in the just-concluded Delhi municipal elections, he never said a word when the AAP swept the Delhi assembly elections in 2015. And if EVMs were tampered in the civic polls, how did the AAP win 48 wards in Delhi? They should not have won a single ward. Likewise for Mayawati facing extinction in UP, who hailed the electoral system when she was winning elections in the last two decades or so, but now finds polling malafide.
So while the Congress party has joined the cackle of regional fronts to protest against the use of tampered EVMs, the party’s victorious candidate in Punjab Amarinder Singh, when asked about the charges, admitted candidly that he would not have been chief minister if EVMs had been tampered.
Other elements in the Congress like former Union minister Veerappa Moily has cautioned his party against `going manual’ and reverting back to an antiquated polling system, which favoured the mafia. “We are censoring our own system. EVMs were launched while we were in power,” Moily told the media, taking a line different from his party.
Further confirmation has come from a former CEC SY Quraishi, who has rubbished charges that EVMs can be rigged. A staunch proponent of electoral reforms, he served as boss of the Commission from July 2011 to June 2012. He added for good measure, however, that greater transparency would come about if the Centre implements suggestion made by the Supreme Court to implement paper trails, which is now already on the central government’s radar.

It would be pertinent to remember that while elections and political parties may come and go, any institutional damage to the Election Commission – which countries seek worldwide for consultancy services – would be disconcerting. India would then be reverting back to jungle raj.

Ranjit Bhushan