Elections 2019: View: It’s VVPAThological!

These EVM machines (sic) are programmed to only vote for BJP. How is it possible that every malfunctioned machine malfunctions only in favour of BJP?’ That’s the Arvind Kejriwal quote carried by the national press in Monday morning newspapers. The Opposition has decided to petition the Supreme Court — again — on the vote count process.

Kejriwal’s quote is worth highlighting because it’s an excellent demonstration of the Opposition’s utter irresponsibility on the issue of electronic voting machines (EVMs). Before we proceed further, let’s note that BJP, when in Opposition, had also sought to make villains out of EVMs to explain away electoral losses. But there’s something particularly toxic about the current Opposition’s claims.

Kejriwal claims some EVMs will only record a vote for BJP no matter what a voter chooses. Where’s the proof for this serious charge? In which election since BJP came to power in 2014 has any EVM recorded only BJP votes? Or take the recent Supreme Court judgment on EVMs that upheld the vote count process and, for the sake of abundant regulatory diligence, ordered vote verified paper audit trails (VVPATs) for five polling booths per assembly constituency. Was the top court being mindless or irresponsible?

Kejriwal-like claims on EVMs can be traced to a non-issue that briefly became a national media controversy. In March 2017, two officials demonstrating VVPAT in Bhind, Madhya Pradesh, had neglected to clear old voting data in an EVM and, thanks to that, the VVPAT demonstration produced votes for BJP’s symbol. The Election Commission (EC) had conducted a detailed inquiry and held two officials responsible for failing to follow standard operating procedures.

Remember, in assembly polls held more than a year later in end-2018, BJP narrowly lost to Congress. If EVMs were really rigged in, say, MP, why on Earth would BJP willingly suffer a narrow defeat to Congress in a major state?

The Opposition never answers questions like these. Take another Opposition chief minister’s irresponsible activism against EVMs. Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief N Chandrababu Naidu, no longer a BJP ally, has discovered many new ‘truths’, including the ‘certainty’ that EVMs are rigged. His is the intervention that has again galvanised the Opposition into questioning the vote count process.

The Tamperer’s New Clothes

As Anubhuti Vishnoi’s story in ET ( makes it clear, Naidu met EC with a gentleman named Hari Prasad in tow. The latter had been arrested in 2010 — when BJP was in Opposition wilderness after its comprehensive 2009 Lok Sabha defeat — for allegations of stealing an EVM. He had briefly attracted media attention for claiming, and failing to prove, that EVMs can be tampered with. In short, Prasad is a person who, rightly, carries little credibility with EC as an institution. Why would such a person be part of a CM’s delegation to EC? The ET story also reported that EC had written to the relevant Andhra Pradesh government and TDP authorities, expressing its displeasure at the inclusion of Prasad as an ‘expert’ in Naidu’s delegation.

As EC wrote, “Such antecedents do not inspire confidence.” Why did, though, an ‘expert’ with ‘such antecedents’ inspire confidence in a CM petitioning a statutory body like EC? And why did other Opposition parties, including Congress that was in power in 2010 when Prasad was arrested, go along with Naidu’s demand that 50% of EVMs be attached with VVPATs?

The 50% VVPAT demand, if met, will delay announcement of elections results most likely by days. There are 10.35 lakh polling booths employing 39.6 lakh EVMs for 2019 polls. What TDP and five other Opposition parties are demanding is that half of these EVMs, 19.8 lakh machines, be subjected to paper audits. This means re-verification of hundreds of millions of votesand, therefore, a long wait for results.

Now, some may argue that if there are questions on EVMs, a 50% VVPAT check is justified even if it means long delays in announcing election results. But that’s an illogical proposition. If there are problems with EVMs, how will a 50% VVPAT check correct the problem? After all, half the machines will still not have paper audits. The 50% VVPAT demand is meaningless if the idea is to correct ‘malfunctioning’ EVMs. Tomorrow, another irresponsible politician will demand 75% VVPAT coverage, and that would be equally illogical. And if every EVM is to have a VVPAT adjunct, logically we should abandon EVMs. But, and as has been endlessly demonstrated, there’s absolutely no proof that EVMs can be, or are, rigged.

Bad Losers

This gross display of irresponsibility on the part of the Opposition poses a real danger that post-results, India’s democracy will be subject to vicious attacks by those who end up on the wrong side of the verdict.

The best way to preclude such a possibility is for the Supreme Court, when it hears the Opposition’s renewed and as-unfounded-as-before plea on EVMs, to make certain things clear. First, that the court’s earlier judgment on the vote count process stands. Second, that the petitioners are making noises for the sake of being noisy. And, third, that further irresponsible remarks on the vote count process shall be deemed as questioning, on no valid grounds whatsoever, the top court’s integrity.

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