FOLLOWING REPORTS that a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machine used during a trial in Madhya Pradesh only dispensed slips with the BJP’s poll symbol, the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on Saturday asked the Election Commission to probe the “tampering” of electronic voting machines (EVMs). The Election Commission, meanwhile, has sought a report from the district election officer in Bhind. It has also decided to send a team of high-level officers to supervise the bypolls in two assembly segments of Ater and Bandhavgarh on April 9.
“To ensure the correct functioning of EVMs and VVPATs being deployed in the two assembly constituencies, the Commission has decided to depute two teams of officers… along with technical experts… The integrity of the EVMs and the VVPATs to be used in the polls will be demonstrated to the complete satisfaction of all stakeholders,” it said in a statement.
On Friday, a VVPAT trial was conducted in the presence of Madhya Pradesh Chief Electoral Officer Saleena Singh in Ater, in Bhind district. There were varying reports of what transpired during the trial. Some reports said the VVPAT machine dispensed slips with the BJP’s lotus symbol twice, although different buttons were pressed on the EVM. Another version, however, said different symbols were printed.
Addressing a press conference in Bhopal on Saturday, Singh said the VVPAT dispensed one slip each with the BJP and the Congress symbols. But the high-level Congress and AAP delegations, which approached the EC separately on Saturday, claimed the paper trail machine only dispensed slips with the BJP symbol.
“The video that went viral from MP yesterday is shocking. Whether the BJP, Congress or BSP buttons are pressed, only the BJP’s symbol registers a vote… Are elections still being conducted independently in this country? Are the people of India voting for their choice of nominee or is the machine deciding their votes? Cases similar to that in Madhya Pradesh have earlier been reported during the Assam elections and even the Delhi Cantonment Board elections,” said Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal after meeting Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi.
“It could be that some machines are indeed faulty. But how is it that all faulty machines only register votes in favour of BJP? Why do we never find ‘faulty’ machines that record votes for other parties like Congress or SP,” he said. “I am an engineer and have studied at IIT. I have some understanding of technology. There is a problem with the software of EVMs as they have been tampered with. Iss tarah se EVM ke keechad mein sirf kamal khilega (In this EVM mess, only BJP’s lotus will bloom),” he added.
“Every single EVM must be checked… If some EVMs can be faulty, many others may also be tampered with. The EC keeps reiterating that EVMs are tamper-free, but these reports make it clear that not only is the EC’s claim incorrect, it is also brushing such cases under the carpet. Why do they not order an investigation into why certain machines behave in this manner? Who is changing the software and writing faulty code for the chips used in the machines? We demand that the EC set up a probe,” said Kejriwal.
The Congress delegation, led by Digvijaya Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia, told the poll panel that “there is an extraordinary suspicion about the fairness of the EVM machines” after the recent round of assembly elections, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Stating that the VVPAT trial was held in the presence of the state’s chief electoral officer, a memorandum submitted by the party leaders said “the issue gets further compounded by the sad fact that (Saleena) Singh threatened the press and media representatives with police action… if they try to go public”.
Calling it a case of EVM tampering, the party said: “The conduct of the (state) chief electoral office trying to muzzle the media and later phone calls to the press representatives by the DRO/ Collector issuing veiled threats is completely incompatible with the transparent and constitutional democratic norms…It is for the Election Commission to take note of these serious facts or else it will erode the faith of the people from Indian democracy.”
It said that “the posting of favourite officers to manipulate and mutilate the electoral process and the mute silence of DEO, CEO and observers is also a telling instance of loss of faith in the impartiality of the election process.” Chief Electoral Officer Singh, however, denied that she had threatened mediapersons. A video of the event also showed her making the comment in a lighter vein.
Explaining the VVPAT procedure, she said after the voter presses a button on the EVM, the choice is displayed for seven seconds in the paper trail machine. If the VVPAT slip doesn’t reflect the voter’s choice correctly, he has to sign an undertaking before a test vote is cast. While voting can be stopped if the voter’s claim is found to be correct, he can be jailed for six months or asked to pay a fine of Rs 1,000 if he is found to be lying.
Meanwhile, both the Congress and AAP revived the demand for returning to the ballot paper. The Congress asked the poll panel to direct “impartial and unimpeachable experts to revisit and re-verify the authenticity of all voting machines being deployed in the two bypolls in MP.” “In the face of the revelation about tampering of EVMs, it is necessary that the entire process should be re-examined thoroughly” including “all agencies and persons involved in maintenance, operationalisation and data feeding in the machines and all others performing duties and responsibilities including storage before use of EVMs in further elections,” it said.
“When the entire world uses ballot paper for elections, even developed nations use ballot papers…then why should we have an objection? Why are we bound to trust the EVM machines, the chip of which is imported from outside,” AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh said.