Narendra Modi has demoralised the Opposition to such an extent that right now his rivals seem to be undergoing a collective mental meltdown. The fake debate over EVMs shows them not only as bad losers, it raises the question whether they have lost even the stomach for a fight.
If acceptance of reality is the first step towards a turnaround, the Opposition leaders have flunked the very first test. Mayawati, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal's reactions since their debilitating electoral reverses betray an unwillingness to face rejection.
While Rahul Gandhi has since maintained a sullen silence punctured only by a desperate defiance of his and party's plummeting fortunes, the likes of Mayawati and Kejriwal have taken the route of self-delusion.
In this illusory state, both leaders are leveling allegations that risk lowering their political capital even further, perhaps terminally so. Voters can put up with errant leaders and even those who betray their trust but once you become the object of mirth in politics, you may as well kiss your career goodbye.
We have seen heated political discourse in the US over 'fake news'. The latest debate over EVMs is no less bogus. The charges are so baseless and fantastic that it is difficult to take these seriously or develop a cogent, rational response.
While Mayawati claims that the EVMs in Uttar Pradesh were tampered to ensure that BJP's tally increases regardless of which button was pressed, Kejriwal in an extraordinary news conference on Wednesday alleged that Punjab polls, too, were rigged.
Kejriwal's allegation means that either the "tampered EVMs" behaved differently at different locations of the country or even more incredibly, the tampering was done in such a way so as to ensure UP goes to BJP and Punjab goes to the Congress.
Assuming that the NDA government at the Centre is the target of these allegations, Kejriwal's logic implies that while BJP wanted to bag UP where it was a challenger, it didn't want to retain power in Punjab where it was running the government along with the Akalis.
And if EVMs were indeed tinkered with, why did the BJP fail to ensure wins in Goa and Manipur too? Instead of such mind-bending theories, it's easier to believe that aliens descended from Mars and decided to play around with the Indian electoral process as part of a thought experiment.
When the inevitable question about Bihar and Delhi arose, whether these too were the result of EVM tampering, Kejriwal answered thus:
People who tamper EVMs, they should answer why they didn't do so in Delhi & Bihar?: Arvind Kejriwal pic.twitter.com/7w1J1yWSMh
— ANI (@ANI_news) March 15, 2017
Difficult to make this up.
Kejriawl's allegations are laughable but his intentions are not. He is not only suggesting that the winners didn't win fair, he is also raising questions against the Election Commission — one of the most celebrated and respected electoral institutions in the world. The EC in a letter to Mayawati has already strongly refuted any possibility of EVM-tampering.
"The commission has put in place elaborate technical and administrative safeguards to ensure error-free functioning of EVMs in elections. The commission is thus fully satisfied with the tamper-proof functioning of the EVMs… Although, the commission has offered opportunities more than once to those alleging the tampering of EVM, no one has been able to demonstrate to the commission that the EVM used in the country's election process, can be manipulated or tampered with,” the EC wrote.
Kejriwal and Mayawati have referred to past instances where parties on the losing side — including the BJP — have blamed the EVMs when faced with an electoral reverse. The charges are not new. Both Kejriwal and Mayawati, though, are cleverly conflating two questions central to the debate.
Question 1: Can EVMs be at all tampered?
Question 2: Were they tampered in this case?
The answer to the first question is, yes. EVMs are machines and all machines can be tinkered with. The answer to the second question is, no. For all their allegations, Kejriwal and Mayawati have provided zero evidence to support their allegation. The EC's letter to Mayawati, quoted by New Indian Express, specifically mentions that.
"The poll panel has said that it has made repeated visit to Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and met the representatives of all parties, including your party. No one raised any objection with regard to functioning of EVMs at these meetings."
It must also be pointed out that several studies have revealed EVMs to be almost tamperproof — that is, while theoretically it is possible to tamper these, practically it is almost impossible.
An article in Pragati magazine written in 2009, when allegations of EVM-tampering first surfaced, describes in detail why tampering an EVM is an extremely difficult exercise. Author K Vidur writes "given the manpower-heavy nature of Indian elections (local police personnel, central paramilitary personnel, official observers from outside the state, micro-observers, independent videographers and photographers, media personnel, and hundreds of voters at every booth) and the low capacity of individual EVMs (a maximum of 3840 votes can be recorded in one machine and a polling station typically has only 1500 registered voters), it will take an army of highly-motivated, centrally mobilised but constituency co-ordinated, election-riggers to influence the outcome at even one constituency… Deploying such an army would reduce to zero the chances of keeping everything completely secret."
The author also makes several other points why systemic frauds (of the kind that Kejriwal and Mayawati are alleging) are impossible at manufacturing and constituency levels. He explains why these electronic machines have stopped entirely the bane of Indian politics during paper era — booth capturing and fraud voting.
To quote him again: "EVMs are designed to record a maximum of 5 votes per minute. This virtually eliminates the kind of booth-capturing prevalent in the days of paper ballots. Even if some goons manage to take control of a booth, they can do no better than casting 5 votes per minute. At this rate, they’ll get about 300 votes in an hour. That is more than enough time for security reinforcements to arrive from elsewhere, who can be alerted immediately in our mobile phone era."
Kejriwal and Mayawati have pitched for a return to paper-based ballots — a cumbersome past practice that can be manipulated at almost every level. What's more, it would bring back another common problem — manual flaws during casting of a ballot.
In his article for The Hindu, data analyst Srinivasan Ramani shows how EVMs have simplified the electoral process and eliminated "invalid voting" that were commonplace during paper ballot regimes and critically altered mandates in "313 of 35,937 constituencies in polls between 1961 and 2003. Of these," he writes, "109 were in Uttar Pradesh alone, 36 in Assam and 18 in West Bengal."
I shall leave the readers with one comment made by pollster Yashwant Deshmukh. Appearing for a debate in CNN-News 18 on Tuesday night, the CVoter founder gave an interesting statistic. He said, "before the introduction of EVMs in 1998, 80 percent elections were won by the incumbent parties. Post EVMs, 90 percent polls were won by the challengers."
This should put to rest this fake debate over EVMs.
As for Kejriwal, another factoid may apply. The AAP supremo last raised his voice against EVMs and was given wide media coverage in February 2015, shortly before Delhi verdict was announced. When it turned out that AAP has won 67 seats, he fell silent. Kejriwal held his silence for over two years until now. One wonders why.
Published Date: Mar 15, 2017 16:29 PM | Updated Date: Mar 15, 2017 17:38 PM