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Opinion | Time to set the EVM issue straight

Our politicians should create a transparent system to eliminate such controversies for good.

columns Updated: Jan 28, 2019 09:38 IST
Shashi Shekhar
Shashi Shekhar
Electronic Voting Machines,Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail,VVPAT
Last year, the Election Commission, to save itself from repeated controversies and furore, had put up an open a challenge to anyone who believed that they could hack the EVMs. Surprisingly, even the people who strongly opposed EVMs did not attend it.(Parwaz Khan /HT Photo)

A few years ago, I happened to be in France on Bastille Day. In keeping with their tradition, there were magnificent tableaux on the road, similar to those we see in Delhi on Republic Day. A huge crowd of the locals and foreigners had gathered in Paris, some out of habit, others just to enjoy the moment. A question flashed in my mind: the symbols of freedom and of a Republic fascinate us, but do we really care about them?

This episode came recently to my mind again. Preparations for Republic Day celebrations in Delhi are on as I am writing this. They will be over by the time you read this, but perhaps even then this question will remain unanswered: how moral and ethical is our success? Without morality, the values of the Republic mean little.

I say this because, in the last few months, there has been a consistent attempt to paint Indian politics in the dark colours of mystery, suspense and crime, merging a number of myths and fiction. Such stories are being created to give a strong impression that our politicians are not only steeped in murders, kidnapping and scams, but are also acting at the behest of anti-nationals. Has our politics become so dirty and tarnished? Of course, it has not. But attempts to portray it as such continues unabated.

As a new episode of this series, I would like to refer to the press conference held in London recently, where a person named Syed Shuja made many controversial claims. Interestingly, until then, this anonymous person was unknown to the public. He appeared in the press conference through Skype. Why was he so scared that he did not want to address in person? According to him, he was attacked a few days ago and had 18 stitches on his chest at the time. After being injured so badly, he seemed to be sitting and talking comfortably. I am not a student of medical science, and only a physician can tell whether a person so injured can conduct himself so comfortably. The presence of Kapil Sibal, a senior leader of the Congress, also raised many questions.

A TV channel deployed an entire team of journalists to examine Shuja’s charges. They found that all the addresses within the country and from abroad provided by Shuja were incorrect. The Delhi police, following the orders of the Election Commission, have also registered a FIR in the matter. Let’s hope that the police investigation will make things clear. Instead of commenting on the issue I would, as a common Indian citizen, like to examine two claims made by him. According to him, the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were hacked during the general elections of 2014. Now, you well know, there was a wave of change sweeping across the nation during that time. If Narendra Modi benefited from this, then his opponent Arvind Kejriwal was also a product of this wind of change.

As far as EVMs are concerned, they were introduced in 1998 amid much controversy. All political parties have opposed the use of EVMs at one point or another. Last year, the Election Commission, to save itself from repeated controversies and furore, had thrown an open challenge to anyone who believed that they could hack the EVMs. Surprisingly, even the people who strongly opposed EVMs did not attend. Needless to say, such controversies are raised to reap political gain. Therefore, it’s only legitimate and natural to expect that the Election Commission should make its rules and regulations more transparent. So far, it is a practice to match Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips of one randomly selected EVM in each assembly constituency. In the recently-held assembly elections in five states, this count was found to be accurate. However, various political parties are demanding the matching of 10-50% of the EVMs.

The system and controversies have been interconnected through the ages. That is why there have been constant attempts to make governance and democratic institutions more and more transparent. This effort should continue. With this intention, the thought that comes to my mind while writing these lines is that we put up an exhibition of our arms and ammunition, our industrial prowess and calibre during the Republic Day parade, but when it comes to truth and transparency, they are never themes for such exhibitions.

Syed Shuja has tried to drag all political parties into the quagmire with his allegations. Why don’t our politicians together resolve to create a transparent system of governance to eliminate such allegations for good? They would now have to understand that it is them who are getting trapped in the maze that they themselves created to protect their self-interests. It is their responsibility to protect themselves and the people from this curse.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Jan 28, 2019 07:24 IST