New Delhi: If elections can be rigged by hacking the electronic voting machines (EVM) or not continues to be a mystery. In light of reports highlighting multiple alleged security violations in the strong rooms, the suspicion that EVMs could be tampered has found resonance among opposition parties.
The long gap between the voting and counting in states like Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh hasn’t helped the volatile situation on the ground. Most party workers, across states, have stayed put outside the strong rooms, vigilantly watching and reporting any kind of suspicious activity.
The anxiety on ground was also backed by the Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who is hoping his party will wrest a few states from the BJP in the ongoing assembly polls.
Congress party workers, it’s time to be vigilant.
In MP, EVMs behaved strangely after polling:
Some stole a school bus and vanished for 2 days. Others slipped away & were found drinking in a hotel.
In Modi’s India, the EVMs have mysterious powers.
Stay alert! pic.twitter.com/dhNeraAfxa
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) December 7, 2018
In the past few days, a number of such incidents of security breaches came up.
In Chhattisgarh, at least three such cases were reported. First, in Bemetara, a Border Security Force guard was found using laptops in the strong room.
On Friday, two people, who claimed to be Reliance Jio employees were apprehended suspiciously close to the strong room in Jagdalpur in the Bastar region. Since they had laptops, the Congress workers alleged that they were trying to hack the EVMs.
Similarly, in Dhamtari an unauthorised person was allowed into the strong room by a district official. When the Congress complained, the election commission of India (ECI) suspended the official who let the person in, while maintaining that this was an exceptional case.
While the the state unit of the Congress raised a hue and cry over the incidents, the ECI admitted to the security breach but asserted that the EVMs were safe.
ECI press conference in Delhi
The senior deputy election commissioner in the ECI, Umesh Sinha, told reporters in New Delhi, “The mobile tower was inside the premises of the building where EVMs were stored. The security guard allowed the mobile phone company’s employees in. And that was a security breach. But I want to assure that they were at least 100 metres away from the strong room, around the area where the mobile tower stood.”
The ECI official also said that the EVMs could not be hacked as they could not be connected to the internet.
In Madhya Pradesh, too, at least four such cases were reported. In Bhopal, an hour-long power outage in the strong room led to a CCTV camera blackout. It was only after the opposition parties complained that the ECI admitted its failure and installed generators for the strong room.
Similarly, in Khurai, the Congress pointed out that 34 EVMs reached the strong room only after 48 hours after voting in an unauthorised van.
The ECI’s Sinha, while clarifying the matter, however said that the EVMs in question were not used for the voting.
In Satna, too, an SUV rammed into the boundary wall of strong room, sparking immediate protests from the opposition parties.
Again, in a bizarre incident, a video that went viral on Friday showed that an EVM was found inside the house of a Rajasthan MLA, Gyanchand Parakh.
Later, Aam Aadmi Party leader and Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted the video, questioning the election process.
What is going on in this country? https://t.co/vQsu3OrlNI
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) December 7, 2018
Sandeep Saxena, deputy election commissioner, told the press that an inquiry has been ordered into the incident. “However, I must add that the EVM found in the BJP legislator’s house was reserved one, meaning it would have been used only if the allocated EVM would have malfunctioned. The concerned EVM has been delisted,” he said.
He added that an election official had brought the EVM to the MLA’s house and he has been suspended.
So, the significant question is if the ECI is addressing these concerns or not.
The ECI has always dismissed these concerns as unscientific. On Friday, Sinha said EVM’s have a three-layered security. Except for some stray incidents, the assembly elections have gone smoothly, he added.
The Madhya Pradesh high court too did not find much merit in the allegations. On Friday, the court rejected a petition by Congress leader Naresh Saraf. He had demanded a probe into the alleged security lapses in the strong rooms, but the court did not find any evidence to back the claim that EVMs were actually tampered in these incidents.
While doubts about EVM’s sanctity were raised first by the BJP when the UPA was in power, in recent times, the opposition parties have raised multiple concerns around the EVM functionalities.
Former chief election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi told The Wire a few months ago that this is not the first time political parties are raising the question of EVM malfunctioning. But he said this is definitely the first time that such suspicions have penetrated deep into the hinterland of India.
“The EVMs used by the ECI are protected against different forms of tampering. But what is worrisome is that the number of VVPAT machines malfunctioning is unusually high in the recent elections. This has led to further doubts in people’s minds. It is time the ECI should take it upon itself to directly address these concerns and allay people’s fears,” Quraishi had said.
While the ECI has had an independent record until now, it may well step up its game to assert that by taking some pro-active steps.