22 Oppn parties give EC 2 ideas on EVM worries, say it’s a ‘no-brainer’
The top opposition leaders had earlier in the day to discuss the possibility of a non-NDA alliance staking claim to government formation.Updated: May 21, 2019 23:32 IST
The Election Commission (EC) came under fresh attack on Tuesday with opposition parties raising new questions about the protocols followed while shifting and storing electronic voting machines (EVMs) after polls and the way the counting will be done on Thursday. The concerns grew stronger after videos from several parts of the country purportedly showed some machines being transported unattended, which the poll watchdog described as “false and factually incorrect”.
Leaders of 22 political parties sent a memorandum urging the poll watchdog to ensure paper slips from the VVPAT (voter verifiable paper audit trail) module are matched before the counting begins so that in cases of discrepancy, all votes in that particular assembly segment can be cross-checked with the paper slips. At present, the counting will involve the matching of paper slips in five polling booths picked at random for each assembly segment.
“We are asking the EC to respect the mandate of people. It cannot be manipulated,” Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief N Chandrababu Naidu told reporters following the discussions between the signatories, which included representatives from the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Left parties, the Trinamool Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Nationalist Congress Party.
The way VVPAT slips are verified, the parties said in their memorandum, was decided without discussion. According to an official aware of developments, chief election commissioner Sunil Arora assured the opposition members that the poll panel will take their representation into consideration.
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The commission, separately, issued a detailed rebuttal to several allegations being made on social media regarding transportation and storing of EVMs without necessary safeguards. These allegations were based on videos shot largely in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Bihar purporting to show EVMs being moved without apparent security or in vehicles that appear to be private ones.
“Certain complaints of alleged movement of EVMs, purportedly to replace the polled EVMs in the strongrooms, have been doing the rounds in sections of media. Election Commission of India would like to emphatically and unambiguously clarify that all such reports and allegations are absolutely false, and factually incorrect. The visuals seen viral on media do not pertain to any EVMs used during the polls,” a statement by the EC said.
“Before the counting of EVMs commences, counting agents are shown the address tags, seals and serial number of the EVMs to satisfy themselves to the genuineness and authenticity of the machines used in the actual polls,” it added, explaining how a switch was impossible to go undetected.
One of the videos was shot in Chandauli, Uttar Pradesh, where some unidentified men are seen unloading voting machines at a strong room a day after the election was held in the constituency.
An EC official said the devices in the video were “reserved EVMs” (back-up machines). But he did not clarify on why these were being moved a day after polling when the protocol requires them to be taken to warehouses at the same time as the EVMs used in polls.
In another instance, the EC said some of the EVMs seen were actually empty containers, while in a third case it said the machines were those that had malfunctioned and were being taken to a different strong room in a private vehicle.
The assurances were seen as inadequate by some political parties. “There is large-scale bungling relating to EVMs in Uttar Pradesh. We demand deployment of central forces,” said BSP’s Satish Chandra Mishra.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also spoke on the issue, calling it a “needless controversy” at a dinner with alliance partners on Tuesday, according to Union home minister Rajnath Singh who was present at the event.
Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said in order to make the process more transparent, paper slips must be counted first and if there is a discrepancy with what is shown digitally on the machines, then all votes – instead of the 5% the EC has decided to at present – in the assembly segment of that parliamentary constituency should be cross-checked.
Azad’s party colleague Abhishek Singhvi said after months of being requested, the EC has now said it will meet on Wednesday to discuss the issue. “We raised these same issues in last one and half months. Why did they not respond?” he said.
Late on Monday night, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra issued a voice message to all party workers and urged them to ignore exit poll results that indicated a Bharatiya Janata Party victory, calling the surveys attempts to diminish their morale. “You must stay strong and be vigilant at polling centres,” she said.
The BJP on Tuesday condemned the opposition parties for questioning the credibility of EVMs. “EVMs were fine when its leaders like Mamata Banerjee, N Chandrababu Naidu and Amarinder Singh win elections and come to power, but the machines turn unreliable when it appears Modi will come back to power,” Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.