A demand to scrap electronic voting machines (EVM) intensified on Saturday as the Congress alleged an EVM malfunctioned during an official media demonstration ahead of an assembly byelection in Madhya Pradesh next week.
Leaders from the Congress – which is the opposition party in the state – said the paper trail attached to the EVM generated a receipt with the BJP’s lotus symbol when chief electoral officer Saleena Singh had pressed the button for the Samajwadi Party candidate.
But Singh dismissed the charges and said the EVM wasn’t fully calibrated. “When you have a fully calibrated machine, this cannot happen like this. But they (journalists) misrepresented the facts without trying to understand the whole issue,” she told HT.
Singh later said at a hurriedly called press conference that she and the Bhind collecter have sent a report to the Election Commission after it sought details of the incident.
A purported video of the incident went viral on social media where Singh allegedly sounds surprised on seeing the voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) receipt. She is also purportedly heard laughing and warning journalists that they could face police detention if the incident was publicised. Local media widely reported the allegations but HT couldn’t independently verify the video clip.
The trial on Friday was held because the byelection for the Ater assembly seat – scheduled for April 9 – is the first time the EC uses VVPAT in the state. The paper trail was ordered by the Supreme Court last year as proof for the voter that her vote was correctly cast. VVPAT is a machine that dispenses a slip with the symbol of the party for which a person has voted for. The slip drops in a box but the voter cannot take it home.
The Congress said it would approach the election commission and several Aam Aadmi Party leaders – including Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal – demanded that EVMs be scrapped and a probe ordered.
The Congress has now demanded that bypolls to Ater and Bandhavgarh – also on April 9 – should be held via ballot paper.
EVMs are under scrutiny following a clamour of allegations from several parties – especially the Bahujan Samaj Party and AAP – that EVMs were tampered to benefit the BJP during the recently concluded five state elections. A petition challenging the efficacy of EVMs is in the SC.
According to journalists present at the demonstration on Friday, when Singh pushed the button number 4 on the EVM during a press conference, the printout of the VVPAT machine bore a lotus symbol and name of a candidate Satyadev Pachouri. When she pushed the first button, the Congress symbol was on the printout. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)’s symbol elephant and an independent candidate’s symbol hand pump were generated when button numbers two and three were pushed, respectively, the scribes reported.
Congress leaders say this order of VVPAT receipts didn’t correspond with the order of candidates on the EVM. They say the EVM order was: BJP at number 1, Congress at 2, Bahujan Mukti Morcha at 3 and SP at 4. The BSP isn’t fighting these bypolls and there is no Satyadev Pachouri in the electoral fray.
Singh told HT that “some people” were trying to create an “illusion” that only the lotus symbol was printed during the demonstration. “In a dummy voting process or a demo anything can come first. When the first button was pressed, ‘lotus’ came. When the next button was pressed hand symbol came. That should have clarified the matter.”
But the Congress wasn’t convinced with state vice-president and MLA Govind Singh alleging the demonstration established it beyond doubt that elections in Uttar Pradesh, in particular, were rigged by the BJP and that bypolls to Ater and Bandhavgarh would also be fixed.
He demanded a high-level inquiry on EVMs and role of officers, including Singh, involved in the election process.
Digvijaya Singh, Congress general secretary, posted the purported video of the trial on his Twitter page and wrote, “Magic of machines used in Uttar Pradesh. Vote to lotus on pushing the button before chief electoral officer”.
State BJP chief spokesperson Deepak Vijayvargiya said his party had complete faith in the election process being conducted for 67 years.
“The Congress too should respect the constitutional bodies. There was no manipulation in the machine,” he said.
This comes roughly three weeks after BSP chief Mayawati alleged that EVMs had been manipulated to ensure a BJP landslide in Uttar Pradesh and engineered victories even in constituencies with large Muslim populations, which is said to be hostile to the saffron party. Kejriwal had also said that a fourth of his party’s votes was transferred to the Akali Dal-BJP combine in Punjab. The BJP and the EC have dismissed the charges.
(with agency inputs)