As the present chief election commissioner Navin Chawla’s term draws to a close, the ECI has once again invited V.V. Rao, petitioner who filed the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court of India in July, 2009 to demonstrate that the Indian EVMs can be tampered with. The enquiry began last July when the Supreme Court directed the petitioners to approach the Election Commission of India (ECI) in the first instance with all their complaints concerning EVMs.
The ECI’s invitation, as a part of the ongoing “enquiry” into allegations of EVM tampering, began exactly a year ago. Despite the best efforts of the ECI to close the enquiry, the issue of EVM tamperability has acquired much greater visibility and credibility among the key stakeholders in the past 12 months. The latest protest action of Telangana Rastra Samithi (TRS) that forced the ECI to introduce paper ballots in Telangana bypolls later this month is proof of this assessment.
Curiously, this was a unique case as the agency conducting the enquiry, the ECI, had a closed mind on the issue and only wanted to prove critics of EVMs wrong. Expectedly, the engagement proved to be a futile exercise as the Commission wasn’t serious in addressing the concerns of those who had grave doubts about the electronic voting machines and converted the so called “enquiry” into a farce.
On August 17, 2009, the petitioners first met the three election commissioners and said that they were willing to demonstrate tamperability but they would need access to the EVMs for the purpose. The chief election commissioner Navin Chwala promised to make EVMs available at the Nirvachan Sadan premises. He had even admitted that the petitioners’ technical experts can bring whatever hacking or reverse engineering tools to show tamperability. Navin Chala’s assurances were recorded in the minutes of the meeting submitted by the petitioners to the ECI. The ECI has also video recorded the proceedings of the entire meeting. The ECI did not keep this promise till date despite repeated requests.
The second encounter of the petitioners with the ECI happened on September 3, 2009. I attended this meeting and witnessed the developments personally. Within a few minutes after Hari Prasad and his colleagues began to inspect the EVMs and started making notes, the ECI experts panicked and the meeting was called off abruptly.
After September 3, the ECI became incommunicado and did not respond to several letters from V.V. Rao for many weeks. When they called again, the ECI changed the ground rules for the demonstration.
On August 17, Navin Chawla said do whatever you want and show how you can tamper them. On December14, the ECI wrote saying that it would not permit reverse engineering to tamper with the EVMs and that only “normal” tampering would be allowed. The latest missive from the ECI says “show tamperability without opening the EVMs.” Apparently, the ECI wants the petitioners to display some “magic” skills to manipulate EVMs. Silly proposition indeed!
Even as the ECI mandarins continued to prevaricate that the Indian EVMs are tamper proof and infallible, clinching evidence has now become available. My first-ever book on EVMs “Democracy at Risk! Can we trust our Electronic Voting Machines?” documented several instances of malfunctioning and manipulation of EVMs. And the collaborative research study by Indian and international researchers has conclusively proved that Indian EVMs are vulnerable to election fraud.
The Commission’s insincere approach in dealing with the EVM issue has deeply eroded its credibility. Throughout this episode, it did not function like a public body wedded to democratic principles. In hushed tones, political leaders have begun to speak of obscure political and other interests shaping the ECI’s responses to the EVM debate. They are wondering what else could explain the Commission’s refusal to engage political parties in a dialogue over their concerns on EVMs?
The Election Commission seems to be in a hurry to close the “enquiry” proceedings and announce to the Supreme Court that the EVMs are safe and “tamper proof”. Let me inform you that such an action would only fast track legal and legislative actions that political parties and civil society activists have planned to get rid of the EVMs in their present form.
The Election Commission of India has a lot to show for its achievements over the years. It is not just all about conducting elections through EVMs. Staking its entire prestige on the EVMs – as it has done so far – is utterly foolish and nonsensical.
Lest the ECI lose all its esteem with the inevitable exit of EVMs, I hope this realization dawns on the new dispensation in the ECI.
I can be contactedat nrao@indianEVM.com