Gujarat polls: Faulty EVMs in Saurashtra worsen credibility crisis for Election Commission

India is missing a Tirunellai Narayana Iyer Seshan, often known as TN Seshan, more than ever today.

As the chief election commissioner from 1990–96, Seshan was instrumental in cleaning up the polling process in the country as he displayed all the might of the Election Commission of India literally purifying this most critical part of the democracy. His sheer determination, in fact, acted as a catalyst to restore people's faith in this key institution. Two decades after his retirement, things have changed considerably—perhaps in a manner that won't impress the former chief election commissioner too much.

EVM challenge for the Election Commission. Reuters

EVM challenge for the Election Commission. Reuters

One of the most disturbing aspects through Gujarat is how casually and frequently people mention the EVM tampering. "Bass EVM mein kuch gadbad nahi hona chahiye (Only there should not be any problems with the EVM)," they say with a smile.

There is no proof yet if EVMs are being tampered to suit a particular political party. What is, however, obvious is that people's faith in the process of elections is eroding, and that is disquieting.

The scepticism of the electorate may or may not be accurate, but it is definitely not unfounded.

Independent candidates in Uttar Pradesh civic polls have tallied zero votes, which is amusing because if you think of yourself worthy of contesting the polls, you would definitely want to vote for yourself.

A Times of India report said when a voter pressed the button for BSP, the vote went to BJP. A collector in Maharashtra confirmed EVM malfunctioning in an RTI response.

These are not rumours but news reports. They spread quickly in the WhatsApp era, triggering the perception crisis over the most important process of democracy.

Glitches in the EVMs have been reported in the past. Political parties, including the BJP, have made similar allegations in the past, but none of them found resonance among the electorate because the autonomy of the Election Commission appeared by and large intact. Today, the credibility of the Election Commission is certainly not at its peak, and the poll panel has itself to blame for it.

The manner in which it delayed declaring the dates for Gujarat elections, and came up with rather unconvincing answers allowed people to cast aspersions on the functioning of the Election Commission. The poll panel has so far not reacted to an alleged violation of the Model Code of Conduct by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 8 December in a rally when he asked people to vote for BJP on the 9 December, a report in India Today said.

It is not like the Election Commission is unaware of the perception crisis, which is why it held a press conference and declared the EVMs would be accompanied by VVPATs. It even sent out a press release trying to reassure the voters.

However, as Saurashtra and parts of South Gujarat went to polls on 9 December, 33 EVMs in Rajkot showed technical glitches, reported the local media. According to a VTV Gujarati News report, the BJP symbol appeared when the Congress button was pressed at booth number 168 in Dwarka. Several other districts in Saurashtra reported EVM and VVPAT failures. In Surat alone, 70 EVMs had problems, as reported by NDTV. In Porbandar, three EVMs were alleged to be linked to Bluetooth, and Arjun Modhwadia of the Congress even filed a complaint with the Election Commission. However, the poll panel disposed of the complaint after conducting an investigation, the DNA reported.

The poll panel chief clarified to NDTV that only seven booths have had problems, but that does not mean the other EVMs that were reported to be faulty did not need technical assistance. I met the collector of Rajkot at 5.45 pm, and he said 31 VVPATs and 27 EVMs were replaced through the day in the entire district.

Bottom line: it delayed, and derailed the voting process by hours.

Saurashtra is a weak link of the BJP, where farmers and rural Patidars are evidently angry with the party. Rajkot is Chief Minister Vijay Rupani's constituency, and he has a stiff challenge. Surat was the epicentre of mass protests held against the government. Mass malfunctioning of EVMs in these areas has further eroded the electorate's confidence in the fairness of the elections. Murmurs on the ground find these coincidences too stark to be ignored.

The Election Commission needs to act, and act fast, not just to save its own credibility, but to restore the wavering faith of the people in the institution of democracy.

 

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Updated Date: Dec 09, 2017 20:58 PM

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