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Friday, Aug 23, 2019

Ahead of state elections, Congress looks to amp up push for ballots

Past protests by opposition parties that EVMs were vulnerable to tampering have failed to convince the Election Commission (EC), which has rejected the allegations.

india Updated: Jul 21, 2019 08:50 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, BSP chief Mayawati, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu and Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy, in Bengaluru on May 23, 2018.
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, BSP chief Mayawati, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu and Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy, in Bengaluru on May 23, 2018. (PTI File )
         

The Congress is likely to convene a meeting of opposition parties after the budget session of Parliament ends to discuss their future course of action on the issue of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) that some say are susceptible to manipulation.

After suffering a heavy defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, in which it managed to win only 52 seats in the 543-member House, the party has decided to escalate its demand for the restoration of ballot papers to replace electronic voting in future elections.

According to a Congress functionary, a group of party leaders recently met United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi and senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who has stepped down as president over the electoral rout, and asked them to push the demand in a big way. The functionary, who requested anonymity, said the party had not only received feedback from the ground but is “convinced” that “EVMs were manipulated” in the national elections, in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 303 seats.

Past protests by opposition parties that EVMs were vulnerable to tampering have failed to convince the Election Commission (EC), which has rejected the allegations. The Supreme Court in April raised the physical counting of Electronic Voting Machines using a Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (EVM-VVPATs) in constituencies from one to five on a plea by opposition parties, but in May turned down a petition for an increase in random checks to at least 50% EVMs.

Another Congress functionary said on condition of anonymity that there was tremendous pressure on the party leadership to “boycott” the upcoming assembly polls in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana if the Election Commission (EC) does not restore the ballot paper system.

The Congress leadership, however, would first like to take other opposition parties on board before taking a final call on the assembly elections. “If the pressure has to be put on the EC, it should come from all the opposition parties. The Congress alone cannot do it,” he added.

In Maharashtra, opposition parties have already upped the ante against the EVMs. On his first visit to Delhi in 14 years on July 8, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray met Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and demanded that Maharashtra assembly elections in October-November be held through ballot papers. “There are doubts in the minds of voters that the votes they cast do not go to their chosen candidates... the EC should switch back to paper ballots and conduct the Maharashtra polls through it. We strongly feel that the EVMs can be tampered with,” he said. Thackeray also cited media reports stating that there was a difference in the tally between the votes cast and votes counted in nearly 220 Lok Sabha constituencies. He later called on the UPA chairperson.

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, too, has raised questions on the use of EVMs. In the middle of the Lok Sabha elections, Pawar claimed that he had once seen during a presentation that a vote cast for his party had gone in favour of the BJP. “I am also concerned about the machine. In Hyderabad and Gujarat, some people kept an EVM before me and asked me to press a button. I pressed the button against ‘watch’ (the NCP’s symbol) and the vote got cast in favour of ‘lotus’ (the BJP’s symbol). I saw it happening myself,” Pawar said in Satara on May 9.

Later, in Mumbai on June 10, Pawar said, “The problem is not with EVMs where the people vote, but with the machine with the electoral officer that is finally counted. We will go in depth into it by discussing this with experts and opposition parties.”

While the opposition parties have often alleged that EVMs could be tampered with, the EC has ruled out any such possibilities and had even thrown a challenge to the parties to prove their claims. Stating that no one could prove the allegations that the machines could be manipulated, the EC also ruled out reverting to paper ballot, pointing out that the machines were safe from tampering and reduce the time for conduct of elections. Earlier this month, the apex court refused to entertain a plea questioning the use of EVMs and sought the cancellation of Lok Sabha elections.

Analysts doubt if the paper ballot system would ever be restored, but concede that improvements are necessary. “Going back to paper ballots is neither advisable nor possible. But the system of managing EVMs and VVPATs needs to be significantly improved and made transparent,” said Jagdeep Chhokar of the Association for Democratic Reforms.

First Published: Jul 21, 2019 07:26 IST

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