EVM controversy: What everyone is afraid to say?

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Ever since the results of the five state assembly elections held earlier this year and the Delhi municipal elections following them, were declared, the controversy around the electronic voting machines (EVM) has erupted like never before.

EVM controversy: What everyone is afraid to say?

This eventually led to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to hold an exercise termed as an EVM hackathon, where it challenged political parties to try and prove allegations that the machine could be tampered with to get the votes cast for one party to be registered to another.

And though from the time the controversy and allegations first surfaced, both those who have made such claims and the ECI, have asked the other not to let the stand taken, turn into a prestige issue, this is exactly what has happened.

While both sides have countered each other, they have not said openly what the real issue is, and instead chosen to make the claims as simple as possible by discussing whether the machine can be hacked or not. As the one's who have said that it can be done have stopped at that, the ECI has insisted that its machine, as it is, cannot be used to transfer voted from one party to the other.

This has led to the current scenario of a stalemate which now demands that both sides need to understand and be able to admit a couple of things that are obvious.

What's the real issue?

While the commission needs to be able to admit that any machine can be tampered with, and its opponents on the issue need to be able to bold enough to claim that such a rigging of the elections as they have claimed, by replacing the motherboard of the machine or changing the whole of it except the outer cover, cannot be achieved by the covert or overt support by those in the administration especially those associated with the commission.

This needs to be done as without these admissions the ongoing debate has no chance of ending and its continuation will achieve nothing but to harm the belief that the population of the country has in the election process.

Such a hit, that the belief in the democratic process would suffer, is the main reason why those who have issued warnings about the machines till now need to have the courage, to say that what they have claimed is only possible with the help of those inside the commission. And then back it with proof of wrong doing as without it allegations of it being possible to tamper and change parts of a machine, are not very difficult to prove and also don't mean much.

The real issue behind the allegations of tampering is that though the machine's behaviour can be altered with if perpetrators get their hands on an authentic machine, and even if it is done so by the near impossible way of getting one without the help of those involved in the electoral process, there is absolute no way that after the machines are returned back to the commission, it would not know about such a tampering.

Political parties

And they need to raise this so as to make sure that it is not felt by others that they have not just brought up the issue to play politics and save face after having suffered a string of electoral losses.

In all honesty, it is also understandable why they are not willing to go as far in the seriousness of their allegations, as doing so without proof and that too against a constitutional body will be seen as nothing short of sacrilege. And it would in all possibility bring down the wrath of not only the commission itself, along with the government of the day but also the courts.

And though the party in power on the day has to stand by the ECI, it will do well to remember this is not the first time such accusations have been levied, and the current opposition parties are not the only ones who have raised them.

In fact, the first major political party to do it was the now ruling BJP, whose victory in most elections this year have been the major cause of the current storm. Following the 2009 general elections when the Congress-led UPA came back to power, leaders like L K Advani, had raised such concerns. And these were later followed up by the likes of Nitin Gadkari when he was the president of the party.

Now, with the parties including Congress, SP, BSP, NCP, the left parties and the Aam Aadmi Party making the same allegations, the set of political parties who have deemed the use of only EVMs in elections unsafe and untrustworthy has been complete.

Election Commission of India

And such a set of those raising the issue demands that there should be a change in reactions from the ECI. And quite frankly it needs to get off its high horse and give respect to the opposition that it is facing at present.

Following the current set of allegations, the ECI called for a challenge similar to when claims about the security of the machine were first made in 2009. The commission did not give the permission to political parties to tamper with the motherboard of the machine as according to it such a change would not let it be considered the commissions EVM anymore.

Conditions like these, have been given as reasons by Aam Aadmi Party, Congress and others, for not taking part in the latest challenge. And those who did take part did this only as a formality and an academic exercise. Leading to no real consensus coming out of the hackathon.

The ECI's reactions till now have been far less than satisfactory when it comes to what is expected from the body which has the responsibility to uphold the sanctity of elections in the world's largest democracy.

These have included the arrest of Hari K Prasad, the person behind the first group to have made such an allegation, on a case of missing EVM, after they had gotten their hands on an authentic ECI machine. This case was unlike that of the commission's dismissal of AAP's attempt to prove that it can be hacked by using its own device similar to the ECI's EVM.

Such a way of handling delicate situations prove that the commission on one hand while trying to show that its machine cannot be tampered with is also restricting the options of those who are trying to prove otherwise.

ECI has to be able to admit that while any voting machine, in truth any system, including those as paper ballots, can be manipulated, it has not been true in India as the commission has made sure that it has not been allowed by its work and officers. And it needs to ask those claiming otherwise to prove their claims.

Finally, it has to be accepted that the current scenario is the result of both the sides not being able to say what they actually mean. This has led to the situation where both still stand firmly on their points as they did before the hackathon, with no clear signs of the controversy having being laid to rest once and for all.

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