On Wednesday, the Union Cabinet cleared Rs 3,174 crore for the purchase of Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) units. A day later, the Election Commission announced that all EVMs deployed in the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly polls, scheduled for this year, will be linked to the VVPAT units. This means there will be a printout for every vote cast, which will come in handy if disputes arise over the polling process. Hopefully, it will also satisfy political parties like the BSP and AAP, which, after their defeat in UP and Punjab respectively, have been insisting that the EVMs are not immune to tampering and demanding that ballot papers be brought back. Elections with ballot papers were tedious and cumbersome; the introduction of EVMs in 1982 simplified the electoral process and helped the government cut down on costs. A return to ballot papers is uncalled for and unnecessary.
The present criticism against EVMs seems to be more a case of sore losers on the lookout for excuses to explain their rejection by voters. However, their bluff needed to called since it threatens the credibility of the EC, an institution widely admired and respected for its diligence and independence. Besides, the Supreme Court in 2013 had directed the EC to implement the VVPAT system in a phased manner. At Rs 19,650 per machine, VVPAT adds to the polling expenses, which, perhaps, explains the Centre’s delayed response to the EC’s demand.
The EC already has over 55,000 VVPAT machines, which it had provided in all the polling booths in Goa and nearly a third of the assembly seats in Punjab in the recent elections. An additional 16,15,066 VVPATs will be required when the general election and assembly elections in seven states are held together in 2019, which explains the urgency shown by the EC. But this one-time investment is worthwhile for it can address the apprehensions some parties are trying to stoke about the neutrality of EVMs.
Political parties must now move on. Many of these parties have won elections in the past with the very same EVMs that they now broadcast their suspicions of. Machines do not win or lose elections, politics does. The losers need to reflect on their poll strategies and those of their opponents to understand the voter’s decision.