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EVMs or not?

EVMs or not?

When Edward Snowden escaped the clutches of CIA and shared its classified information with the world, many were shocked. Some outrightly believed the ex-CIA man while others criticised him. Yet, inside our conscience, inquisitiveness brewed. In a similar vein, self-claimed cyber expert Syed Shuja has garnered the spotlight after his staggering allegations regarding the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and EVMs, at a press conference in London via Skype. His claims underline the concerns that have drawn public attention towards India's political narrative since 2014. Not only did he claim that he was involved in designing the EVMs used in India but he went further on to state how the 2014 Lok Sabha (LS) polls were rigged. Though unsubstantiated, his claims have aroused national inquisitiveness. Election Commission of India (ECI) was quick to dismiss such allegations, citing how EVMs in India were full proof and could not be hacked. It reiterated how EVMs are manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) under strict supervision and are subject to rigorous Standard Operating Procedures under a committee of eminent technical experts. Now, ECI as a statutory body exercising autonomous privilege under the Constitution is not likely to be dubious. On the contrary, Syed Shuja's uncorroborated claims subject him to widespread scrutiny. While his revelations are questionable, they are difficult to overlook. First and foremost, India needs to know if this man worked for ECIL from 2009-2014, as he claims, or not. Second, the flutter that he has caused over the hackable EVMs, not to mention the timing of it, can draw a sceptical picture for the public. That BJP leader and Union minister Gopinath Munde was killed because he was aware of EVM hacking in the 2014 LS polls and did not die in a road accident, only adds to the curiosity, along with the mention that even the NIA officer investigating Munde's death was killed. His allegations, even if momentarily bizarre, must be investigated since it involves conspiracy not just against individuals, but the entire nation. The electoral integrity of India is threatened; and while commoners might stand by ECI as it validates EVMs, scepticism cannot be contained. Shuja attacked several parties over their involvement in rigging EVMs but none other than the saffron party retaliated. In their response, the lotus party hailed the outlandish allegations as a "hacking horror show" organised by Congress. Kapil Sibal's presence at the London press conference where Shuja made such revelations is indeed a funny coincidence which Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi does not agree with. He conveniently alleged that Sibal was there as Congress "postman". Now, regardless of the commotion, what truly must concern Indians is the credibility of EVMs used in our polls. We all know how technical snags have repeatedly plagued EVMs. The argument that ballots are better than EVMs holds substance because of the former's empirical and transparent nature. That countries such as Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, et al, have abandoned EVMs must be scrutinised. Free and fair election invariably means one where absolute transparency, secrecy and verifiability are exercised. A voter casting their vote in secret, a process of counting in transparency and the vote recorded correctly ensures the free and fair mandate. Ballots, though tedious and costly, functioned along these precursors. Of course, ballot-box stuffing was a major drawback; but, in today's technological era, that can be averted. However, with EVMs, the voter cannot ensure the vote being registered and neither can it be verified. If EVMs, as Shuja mentioned, can be hacked, there will be no way to uncover this tampering with precision. Therefore, polls today are largely conducted on the basis of public faith in EVMs. ECI's reiteration of EVM's credibility not only rubbishes Shuja's claims but aims at restoring public trust, even as we encounter hindrances in EVMs. While it is agreeable that EVMs are cost-effective and quicker as compared to ballot papers, they cannot be above the election's integrity. The German court had rightly put, "The democratic legitimacy of the election demands that the election events be controllable so that unjustified suspicion can be refuted". In that regard, Germany did away with EVMs to sideline even the possibility of tampering the electoral process. Because carrying on with something which is under scrutiny for possible fraud is jeopardising the electoral process's integrity, and that was non-negotiable for Germany's promise of democracy. Meanwhile, because it could justify credibility, ECI is continuing with EVMs in the world's largest functional democracy and not paying heed to the commotion surrounding EVM fraud. While the Mamata-constituted opposition committee aims to pester ECI over doing away with EVMs, the layman can either trust ECI or swim in a pool of scepticism with a pertinent question hanging in suspension – EVMs or not?

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