No anomaly in EVM: Credibility takes another hit but will it deter 'allegation crusader' Arvind Kejriwal?

Throughout the length of his career as an activist-politician, Arvind Kejriwal has developed politics of insinuations and U-turns into a fine art. It is debatable whether the patented 'shoot-and-scoot' strategy has been electorally profitable for him and his Aam Admi Party but there can be little doubt over the fact that his political credibility has suffered steady erosion.

Sensational allegations are a good way to hunt for headlines. Unless backed by verifiable proofs, though, it is a game of diminishing returns. Not surprisingly, Kejriwal's allegations have become progressively outlandish and the bar for the reliability of his charges have been set lower and lower.

Driven to the edge of desperation and consequently having to base his claims on increasingly unverified sources, the Delhi chief minister has unfortunately been trapped into his self-created caricature.

This is a fatal for a politician who has tried to project himself as the voice of morality in Indian politics. Assembly poll results in Goa and Punjab indicate that mere opening of imaginary 'tijoris' cannot unlock the vault of electoral success for Kejriwal at the moment.

This, though, is a problem for him and his party to solve.

However, it begins to hurt the sanctity of India's electoral process when the chief minister of Delhi, holder of a constitutional post, insists on running a high-pitched, sensationalist and simulated campaign against another Constitutional high office. The Election Commission (EC), that handles the electoral process in India, enjoys a high degree of integrity for its transparency of policies and efficiency of services.

File image of Arvind Kejriwal. PTI

File image of Arvind Kejriwal. PTI

When allegations of loose nature are leveled against such a globally acclaimed autonomous body, the political discourse is dragged down several notches and the sanctity of India's electoral process, considered among world's best, is violated. Damningly, it also raises doubts over the basis of our democracy. This is not to say that political parties or leaders shouldn't red flag their legitimate concerns, but to argue that allegations against organizations like the EC cannot be mere fishing expeditions and the leaders, who level the charges, must be held accountable for their actions and speeches.

This is where we run into problem with AAP and its mercurial supremo. He can't be made accountable for his comments. Kejriwal is too clever a politician not to understand the consequences of words. His strategy is actually a neat one. The AAP chief banks cynically on the collective mindset that extends to garrulous individuals a high degree of allowance to spread baloney. Since he can't be taken seriously, Kejriwal can get away by saying almost anything. Where any other politician would have faced media scrutiny, nary a voice will be raised against Kejriwal.

Consider the latest development. The Delhi chief minister  recently raised a stink over an allegedly 'tampered' EVM in Madhya Pradesh's Bhind. Basing his allegation mostly on unverified sources, Kejriwal claimed that the EVM and the accompanying VVPAT (voter verified paper audit trail) machine were doctored in such a way that only BJP slips were being issued during the demonstration exercise last week.

This expectedly led to a furor and other political parties who have suffered recent electoral reverses stepped into the ring. Election Commission was vehement in its denial that any malpractice has taken place. It refuted the charges and in an elaborate rebuttal, laid out the reasons why tampering an EVM is next to impossible. As an additional measure, the EC also ordered a special inquiry to settle the controversy.

The result of that inquiry is now out. A probe committee led by Andhra Pradesh chief electoral officer Bhanwar Lal has found all allegations of tampering to be baseless. Citing the panel report, the EC on Friday released a statement. It reads: "The technical examination of the ballot unit and control unit and VVPAT of 31 March demonstration, oral examination of the officials present during the demonstration, data retrieved from the control unit have conclusively established that during the demonstration, four buttons of ballot were pressed... it is clear that on pressing of various buttons on EVM during the demonstration, corresponding symbols were displayed," according to a report in The Times of India.

The EC did find lacunae on part of the poll officers who had apparently failed to delete "pre-loaded data" from the VVPAT machine — which is part of standard operating procedure — and hence slips "with poll symbols of the Kanpur candidates corresponding to the button pressed on the ballot unit of the EVM" were dispensed, The Indian Express quoted an EC official as saying.

The EC also refuted charges that the EVM was sourced from UP, clarifying that only a reserve VVPAT machine which wasn't used during recent Assembly polls was used during demonstration in accord with law.

The Election Commission also took contentious questions on EVM technology and explained in detail while hacking of Indian EVMs is impossible.

On a question as to why some western countries have shunned EVM and reverted to ballots papers — a point repeatedly raised by Kejriwal and some other leaders — the EC, according to a report in Economic Times, stated: "Some countries that have experimented with electronic voting in the past include Brazil, Norway, Germany, Venezuela, Canada, Belgium, Romania, Australia, UK, Italy, Ireland, European Union and France. The problem faced with the machines in these countries was that they were computer controlled and connected to the network, which in turn, made them prone to hacking. Adequate safeguards were also not built in leading to courts rejecting EVM use. ECI-EVMs, on the other hand, are standalone devices not connected to any network, thus making it impossible for anyone to tamper with over 1.4 million machines in India individually."

Incidentally, media reports indicate that Russia has expressed interest to use India's EVM technology in its 2018 presidential elections.

These clarifications should once and for all rest the fake controversy about EVMs. There is a strong possibility that it won't unless politicians are made accountable. With Kejriwal, though, the issue is trickier. If any of his allegations is challenged in court, he will simply expect taxpayers to fund his lawyers.

Facing allegations that he was using public money to meet personal legal expenses (his counsel Ram Jethmalani had raised a bill of Rs 3.42 crore to fight the defamation suit filed by Arun Jaitley), Kejriwal's marvelous sense of entitlement came to the fore when he argued that he won't pay the money from his pocket because it wasn't his personal case.

Yet, as a News18 report points out, Kejriwal had argued the opposite in court last year. The channel accessed court order from 19 October, 2016 which shows that "Arvind Kejriwal, in his petition, had told the court that the proceedings are 'private in character' in the defamation case filed against him by Arun Jaitley."

Kejriwal has moved beyond being inconvenienced by these 'little inconsistencies'. If, in future, if he at least keeps venerated institutions like the EC out of the ambit of his charges, that will be no small a mercy.

Updated Date: Apr 08, 2017 15:30 PM

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