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How BJP started the EVM-tampering murmurs that haunt it today

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After the UPA retained power in 2009, it was L.K. Advani who began questioning EVMs, pointing out their discontinuation in Germany and the US.

Ahmedabad: While polling for the first phase of the Gujarat assembly elections was on, murmurs about Electronic Voting Machines being prone to tampering turned into a crescendo.

The murmurs have been steadily growing louder since the assembly polls in five states earlier this year, with opposition parties increasingly attributing the BJP’s string of electoral victories to EVM-tweaking. But which party began the smear campaign? Ironically, the BJP itself.

In the aftermath of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, in which the Congress-led UPA came back to power with a decisive mandate, senior BJP leader L.K. Advani alleged that EVMs were not “foolproof”. He suggested the use of paper trails alongside EVMs, and several political parties joined ranks.

In fact, Advani even wrote a foreward in psephologist and now party spokesperson G.V.L. Narasimha Rao’s book on EVMs, titled ‘Democracy at Risk! Can we trust our Electronic Voting Machines?’, published in 2010.

“I personally regard it significant that Germany, technologically, one of the most advanced countries of the world, has become so wary of EVMs as to ban their use altogether. Many states in the USA have mandated that EVMs can be used only if they have a paper back-up. So manufacturers of electronic voting machines in the USA have developed a technology referred to as Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT),” Advani wrote.

“Every voter who exercises his vote on the EVM gets a print out in a ballot box so that if there is any discrepancy in the machine either because of mal-functioning or because of mischief the paper ballots can be counted. Today 32 out of 50 states in the USA have passed laws making these VVPAT voting machines compulsory. The US Congress has pending before it a federal law similar to that of the state laws. I think the Election Commission would be strengthening democracy if it contemplates similar legislation by the Indian Parliament also.”

In his book, Rao, who was one of the most vocal critics of EVMs, stated that “the distrust among political leaders of all hues in voting machines is so high that most losers are wondering if they had been unfairly defeated in polls. It is about time India shunned paperless voting to make its election outcomes verifiable and auditable.”

After anti-EVM activist Hari K. Prasad, the technical coordinator of VeTA (Citizens for Verifiability, Transparency and Accountability in Elections), was arrested in August 2010 for allegedly stealing an EVM, Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu defended him and insisted EVMs could be tampered with.

This issue was subsequently raised in Parliament and opposition parties, including the BJP, demanded an all-party meet to thrash out the issue. “We will urge the government to call an all-party meeting,” said then leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley. He also suggested calling technical experts to clear doubts.

In fact, it was on a PIL filed by BJP Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy that the Supreme Court, in October 2013, directed the Election Commission to introduce the VVPAT system in a phased manner. The idea was to implement it fully by 2019.

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