The electronic voting machine (EVM) hacking demonstration took place in London on Monday. By Tuesday, as news emerged that the claims made therein were largely unsubstantiated and that the hackathon was attended by Congress leader Kapil Sibal, a row sparked so brilliant in India that by Wednesday it had effectively replaced the buzzwords of "quota" and "Rafale" as the new controversy in town.
A US-based self-proclaimed cyber expert from India, Syed Shuja, claimed that 2014 Lok Sabha polls were "rigged" and that EVMs can be hacked. Saying that the allegations made by Shuja are "violative of the Indian Penal Code, particularly under section 505(1)(b)", the Election Commission of India requested the police to lodge an FIR and investigate the matter promptly, late on Tuesday.
But even before that, the Congress and other Opposition leaders like Akhilesh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati had demanded that the claims made by Shuja be looked into.
The BJP, in reply, organised a full-fledged onslaught on the Congress, arranging for a press conference in which Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad alleged that not only was Shuja himself a dubious person, but Ashish Ray, the head of the Indian Journalists Association was a dedicated Congressman, in cahoots with Rahul Gandhi and an active contributor to the party mouthpiece National Herald.
Prasad also lashed out at Kapil Sibal, whose presence at the back of the hall seems to have provided the BJP the ammunition it needed to pin the blame of the claims on the Congress. "What was Sibal doing there? In what capacity was he present? My charge is that he was there to monitor the event for the Congress. It was a Congress-sponsored conspiracy designed to defame Indian democracy and the Election Commission," Prasad, who was quoted by India Today, said.
The mystery and the claims surrounding the London event run deep. Through the day, as questions on who Shuja was, why he connected through Skype, why he did not hack into an EVM in an event dedicated to do just that and why he waited till 2019 to reveal grave doubts on the 2014 polls did the rounds, BJP and Congress leaders sparred on the issue. Shuja had also claimed that the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh and the death of BJP leader Gopinath Munde in a car accident were also related to the EVM tampering. Both were as shocking as the drama which unfolded. A Twitter hashtag emerged. The prime time had found a new Rafale.
Sibal, in his part, also demanded a probe into Shuja's claims and Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said he had gone to the event in his personal capacity. Congress leader Anand Sharma too repeated Singhvi's assertion. Sibal also slammed Prasad for making very "childish statements as the issue pertained to free and fair elections and the survival of democracy", reported PTI.
Suspicion over EVMs is not new. AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal is open in his doubts over their fairness and even in the grand Opposition rally in Kolkata on 19 January, the National Congress leader Farooq Abdullah had likened the EVM to a "chor machine", reported Economic Times. In 2009, senior BJP leader LK Advani, who was the Leader of Opposition at that time, had demanded the reintroduction of ballot papers for the Assembly elections in Maharashtra and three other states, reported India Today.
However, the Congress and BJP who had until now traded heavy barbs on the Rafale issue, seem to have found in it new incentive to sharpen their poll time rhetoric.
As more BJP states announce the 10 percent quota for the economically weaker sections of the upper castes, the Congress' claim that the Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill is an "election gimmick" of the ruling party has also begun to weaken. The Congress's question to the government's move to provide for quota in private higher educational institutions in the same Bill is, has also fallen silent.
Meanwhile, the potboiler of a row over the Indian government's acquisition of 36 Rafale fighter jets from the French Dassault group has not seen a new development since Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman speculated three days ago on whether the parties were becoming pawns in corporate rivalry and whether the procurement of 36 fighter jets was being "sabotaged".
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Updated Date: Jan 23, 2019 15:13:01 IST