Parties determined to frustrate the ECI and force-exit EVMs
In the Telangana by-polls held last week, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) fielded over 64 candidates in many assembly constituencies forcing the Election Commission of India (ECI) to use paper ballots in 5 of the 12 constituencies that went to polls. TRS had openly declared that it feared manipulation of EVMs by the ruling Congress party to show that the verdict of the people was against the formation of a separate state of Telangana.
In the end, the results proved to be a total sweep for the TRS; in all the 12 constituencies (of which TRS contested 11 and BJP 1). In its thumping success , the TRS sees a vindication of its stand against the EVMs. But for its active stance against the EVMs, the TRS leaders believe they could have been cheated.
Use of paper ballots in Telangana by-polls had instilled a great degree of confidence in the voters and parties that the results were fair and trustworthy because the votes could be seen, verified and counted in the physical form. The results from the seven constituencies where EVMs were used also look credible because they seemed to match the trend from the constituencies that used paper ballots. In other words, paper ballots are the standard and set the benchmark for comparisons with the results dished out by the “non-transparent” EVMs that function as “black boxes”.
Now the big news!!
The successful “Telangana experiment” has caught the imagination of the political parties. A number of political parties are now contemplating similar action to dump EVMs. After all, all that a party needs to do is to ensure that there are more than 64 candidates in the fray to prevent use of EVMs in polls.
Come October-November, the ECI would be under pressure once again in Bihar elections. All the principal parties in the state, ruling Janata Dal (United) – BJP combine and the opposition Rahstriya Janata Dal (RJD) have misgivings about the EVMs. JD (U) and RJD have signed a joint memorandum submitted to the ECI a coupe of months ago seeking a review of EVMs.
The success of Telangana experiment is encouraging parties to take this route to safeguard their interests and to protest against the continued use of EVMs with all their inherent limitations and vulnerability to election fraud.
Elections are all about trust and that is missing in the EVMs. No matter what the ECI says, parties are determined to shun EVMs as they cannot simply risk their future merely placing faith in ECI’s goody-goody statements on EVMs.
Paper ballots offer the advantages that the EVMs in their present form do not offer: transparency in voting and counting operations and a genuine facility for vote verification and audit.
The EVMs score in one area though: faster counting and results. In a country where elections are routinely conducted in several phases and over several weeks and months, what is the great hurry in declaring results in three hours? Aren’t transparency, accuracy, verifiability and credibility of election results more important than dishing out results quicker? Why continue to have doubts about election for five years after they are declared rather than take a day or two more to declare election results?
It seems that the ECI with all its commissioners drawn from bureaucracy is more concerned about the drudgery of babus in manual counting rather than the lack of trust of voters and candidates in election results using EVMs. The only section that is very keen to perpetuate the present EVMs is the army of election officials who find the non-transparent EVMs eminently suitable and free from drudgery.
Contrary to popular belief, paper ballots continue to be used in most parts of our country in elections to local urban bodies and panchayats. They are working perfect. They have never been called into question and their results have never been under a shadow.
Thanks to the ECI’s undemocratic functioning in resisting an informed debate with political parties and its continued insistence on use of EVMs despite serious misgivings among parties, its moral authority has seriously eroded over the past year. The poll body has been seen to be functioning like a greedy vendor selling EVMs despite all their shortcomings rather than a constitutional body mandated to conduct free, fair and trustworthy elections.
Has the TRS shock treatment shaken the ECI? Yes. The Election Commission of India – which has been gung-ho about the EVMs claiming them to be totally tamper proof –is now singing a different tune. Recently, the new chief election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi stated, “the Commission is working to make EVMs absolutely tamper proof.”
The nuanced statement may also have been prompted by change at the helm in the ECI with S.Y. Quraishi succeeding Navin Chawla as chief election commissioner last week. The functioning of the ECI in the coming weeks would show whether change of leadership has indeed brought a perceptible change in its approach.
If the ECI under the present dispensation is keen to restore the prestige of the ECI, it must convene an all-party meeting immediately to discuss concerns of all parties regarding EVMs. Avoiding a dialogue, as his predecessor Navin Chawla had done, is not an option for a constitutional body in a democratic set-up. The ECI must strive for building a political consensus over the appropriate voting system that has the confidence of all political parties.
If the ECI fails to take the initiative, it would be up for a full scale confrontation with political parties over the use of EVMs. The poll body with the constitutional obligations to conduct free and fair elections would then be busy fighting EVM battles with political parties. What an irony indeed?
I can be reached at nrao@indianEVM.com