A routine administrative move by the Election Commission of India, to shift electronic voting machines (EVMs) from Gujarat to Jammu and Kashmir for the Assembly polls there, has taken a surprise political turn.
The controversy started with rumours that the EVMs had been “manufactured” in Gujarat and were programmed to ensure the BJP’s victory in the polls. Despite the EC clarifying that this was not true, and that the machines were only being moved for operational reasons, many in the Valley remain unconvinced.
“We have to be doubly sure. The people of J&K are already asking why EVMs are being brought from Gujarat. An NGO created quite a stir by claiming that these machines could be tampered with,” J&K Congress president Saifuddin Soz told The Indian Express.
“People are asking why the machines are being brought from Gujarat and not any other state. I have promised them that there will be no rigging or malpractice during polls,” Soz said, adding that he would approach the EC soon. “Why do something like this and let doubts creep in?”
Despite fears of EVM tampering having been proved wrong, the ruling National Conference too has joined the bandwagon and is planning to take up the issue with the EC. “There is no justification to bring these machines from Gujarat. Why can’t EVMs be sent from Punjab or Haryana or Himachal Pradesh or even Delhi?” party general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar said. “Except the BJP, every single party in J&K has expressed reservations on this move.”
Asked what he feared, Sagar said, “There is a lot of distance between Gujarat and J&K. Anything can happen.”
A few days ago, Jammu & Kashmir National Panthers Party chief Bhim Singh sent a letter to Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) V S Sampath, saying that “importing Gujarat-manufactured EVMs to J&K shall prove counterproductive”. “Why have Gujarat manufacturers been chosen for this purpose, that too for J&K, which has a history of elections being rigged?” he wrote to the CEC.
The EC, however, is standing its ground. “It is a case of misunderstanding. All the EVMs are manufactured by BEL and ECIL in Bangalore and Hyderabad. Depending on the requirement, we move them from one state to another, taking factors like availability and distance into consideration. In case of J&K, we decided to move the EVMs from Gujarat. Similarly, we plan to move EVMs to Maharashtra from Uttar Pradesh,” Sampath told The Indian Express.
He added that there was no question of entertaining the request of J&K parties. “Doing that would mean we are acknowledging that the EVMs used in Gujarat could have been tampered with. It will be like accepting that polls in Gujarat were manipulated. We cannot entertain that request,” Sampath said.