Neo Luddites must end the ill-conceived campaign against EVMs; EC must stay the course
Once again, the usual suspects have begun an illogical and, frankly, Luddite campaign against the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in Indian elections. The latest round of outrage has been sparked by reports of malfunctioning EVMs, especially those with a paper trail or VVPAT for double confirmation of the recorded vote, in by-polls held for four Lok Sabha and 10 Assembly constituencies throughout the country on Monday. In particular, the ire of various Opposition parties was directed at the admittedly slightly higher proportion of malfunctioning EVMs than normal in the Kairana Lok Sabha and Noorpur Assembly seat in Uttar Pradesh and the two Lok Sabha seats of Bhandara-Gondiya and Palghar in Maharashtra.
The anti-EVM brigade which supports a return to paper ballots at the cost of undermining a best-practice template for the conduct of free and fair polls in a country as diverse and logistically challenging as India which the Election Commission (EC) has assiduously put in place over the past two decades is ludicrous. So, let us first get out of the way the nonsensical argument that seeks to portray the days of paper balloting as a free and fair vote Valhalla. Just two examples, though there are dozens if not hundreds of others, would suffice to do so — the infamous by-poll to the Meham Assembly constituency in 1990 and repeat wins of the CPI-M in West Bengal bar its first and to an extent second term. For those who came in late, as it were, it needs pointing out that across vast swathes of India, powerful local interests have always loved the paper ballot because it made rigging that much easier. Whether it is, literally, stuffing the ballot box or burning, tearing, stamping or misplacing ballot papers, the dominant caste, kin, class, community and political grouping in a region always had a 20 per cent advantage in any poll process, by our reckoning. Given Indian society’s disparities in power structures and the absence of robust rule of law in many parts, the introduction of EVMs has been one of the most important tools in the democratization of at least the procedural aspects of our electoral system.
Today, because those who have been used to winning or at least retaining a hold in core areas, are increasingly being cornered by a rampant ruling party which is expanding its electoral footprint into previously uncharted territories and is showing no signs yet of accommodating bit players, relatively speaking and from the national perspective, of the regional kind, there is an outcry against EVMs. As the EC statement issued on Monday in response to reports of “widespread and/or large-scale malfunctioning of EVMs” put it — these are highly “exaggerated projections of the reality”. What has not helped in terms of optics, of course, are the airing of silly theories by various State EC officials such as the one which claimed the high temperatures as we head into peak summer may have affected the functioning of EVMs et.al. Also, while there is no question that glitches which certainly will occur in any machine-run system should be fixed with alacrity, it is equally important to point out that the poll body does have well-tested procedures in place to do so and it does follows them. The replacement EVM and VVPAT machines rushed to various poll booths on Monday and the re-poll ordered in nearly a hundred polling booths on Tuesday where the EC felt voters were disadvantaged in the exercise of their franchise is proof of that.
Writer: The Pioneer
Courtesy: The Pioneer