The sanctity of our democratic institutions is under threat | columns | Hindustan Times
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The sanctity of our democratic institutions is under threat

The Election Commission must ensure complete implementation of all parameters of the electoral process. Those officers violating this should be given the strictest punishment.

columns Updated: Apr 24, 2017 01:23 IST
Shashi Shekhar
Ghaziabad , India - March 14 A group of protesters on Tuesday held a demonstration at district headquarters and demanded an inquiry into the EVM machines used in recent UP assembly elections . in Ghaziabad,India, on Tuesday, March 14, 2016. (Photo by Sakib Ali /Hindustan Times)
Ghaziabad , India - March 14 A group of protesters on Tuesday held a demonstration at district headquarters and demanded an inquiry into the EVM machines used in recent UP assembly elections . in Ghaziabad,India, on Tuesday, March 14, 2016. (Photo by Sakib Ali /Hindustan Times)

The respect and sanctity of some of our most important democratic institutions have been threatened. The latest incident relates to India’s Election Commission. A few people who lost elections owing to their obsolete politics have begun to raise a clamour. Allegations have been made that the ruling BJP had tampered with the electronic voting machines (EVMs). What is surprising is that the BJP had made similar allegations against its political adversaries after losing the elections in 2009.

Here I would not hesitate to say that the prestige of institutions and the judiciary prevents them from slipping into the quagmire of allegations and counter-allegations. Many centuries ago, the policy makers of India had created a wonderful code of ethics and conduct, so that the institutes that protect the interests of the common man stay impartial and unbiased. Just imagine, if the Supreme Court judge who decided to charge such heavyweight politicians as Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti held a press conference to pat his own back. It would have made the judiciary a laughing stock.

I can understand the compulsions of such politicians. The balloons they inflate with lies during the elections are often pricked by the poll results. What can be a better option than distracting people from their embarrassment and frustration than making irresponsible statements? They begin exercising this option with aplomb, but things become tragic when the common man begins getting misled by these statements. This is what is happening these days. Still, unaffected by these allegations, these government bodies and the judiciary have no option but to stick to the policy of impartiality. In a country where trials by fire are a norm, even national institutions have to go through these. In 2009, the Election Commission had challenged those who were making allegations about tampering with EVMs in a public forum. No eminent personality reached the Election Commission to take up the challenge. Now the Election Commission is challenging those who are making allegations to hack the EVMs once again. Will any political heavyweight approach the Election Commission to prove his allegation? If they can’t do it, they should be prepared to be punished in the people’s court.

A few days ago, I asked a retired government servant associated with the Election Commission whether it was at all possible to tamper with the EVMs. He said it wasn’t possible, but human error could provide an opportunity for those making allegations. That was the case in Bhind, Madhya Pradesh. The EVMs used in the by-poll here had been sent from a constituency that the BJP had won. When the chief election commissioner of Madhya Pradesh told journalists that the bypolls in Bhind will be free and fair, the reporters asked her why one of the machines couldn’t be tested to ensure this happened. She was confident that going by the standard operating process of the Commission the memory of the machine would have been washed. But owing to someone’s callousness the memory hadn’t been washed. So, the lotus election symbol emerged when the button was pressed. When the reporters asked for a clarification, instead of making things clear, the lady officer threatened them that she would have them arrested if word got out. That was when things went awry.

After the incident, the Election Commission must learn a lesson: it should ensure 100% implementation of all parameters of the electoral process. Those officers violating this should be given the strictest punishment. At the same time, to make its functioning more transparent, the Election Commission had demanded the facility of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) with every EVM. The Centre has sanctioned a sum of Rs 3,174 crore for this. It is an auspicious signal.

It is believed that the results in those five states where the EVMs already had VVPATs installed were analysed after the assembly polls. The analysis showed that the votes polled were in the same ratio as the final verdict. For instance, the machines registered more voting for the Congress in Punjab and the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. Is this fact not enough to remove the misconceptions in the minds of those making wild allegations? They are themselves not without blemish.

Here I must request self-styled social media stalwarts not to fire missiles of words without pausing to think about the consequences. The generations before us have refined our conventions time and again to make sure that the sanctity of these institutions is maintained after a lot of deliberation. We have no right to shatter it.