The demand that the Election Commission should revert back to the ballot boxes in the elections to the Lok Sabha is not only reflective of the aggressive mood in the combine opposition camp but has also brought together the parties which were fighting each other in many states.
Giving a serious jolt to the ruling National Democratic Alliance government at the centre, the 17 political parties in the opposition joined hands and made a fresh and concerted effort to ballot instead of EVM’s. A delegation of opposition parties called on the Chief Election Commissioner Om Prakash Rawat and demanded that old system of voting through ballot papers should be brought back as the electronic voting machines have not proved trustworthy and are faulty.
However, Rawat, the CEC, turned down opposition demand asserting that the new electronic voting machines have been designed with more checks to rule out tampering and manipulation. The Election Commission, an independent body that prepares electoral rolls and conducts elections in the country has asked the opposition parties to refrain from expressing doubts about the efficacy and safety of EVMs with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT).
“EVM has been made an ‘scapegoat’ by political parties because it cannot speak and political parties need to blame someone for their defeat. India’s conduct of free and fair elections was admired all across the world. It is creditworthy that despite such a large electorate, the Election Commission is able to publish results in just a few hours,” the CEC said at an interactive session held recently in Kolkata on electoral integrity and role of money in elections.
The Congress led opposition grouping that contested that the use of EVMs and VVPAT would not be acceptable in the next Lok Sabha poll and has decided to push for a comprehensive debate under a suitable motion in the Parliament to mount pressure on the government and the election body.
Interestingly, the demand to revert back to the ballot boxes has not only brought the opposition parties together but also one of the allies of the ruling NDA on a common platform against the government. On this issue the leaders of opposition parties like Trinamool Congress and Left parties, Telugu Desam, Shiv Sena and YSR Congress are seen rubbing shoulders with each other.
“EVM is the next big issue for us. We want to revert to the ballot system,” TMC leader Derek O’Brien said. This is not an issue of just one party. All like-minded parties are playing as a team to make this happen,” he added. India’s grand old party Congress that heads the opposition conglomerate contended that there are apprehensions among political parties and people over the misuse of EVMs to manipulate the outcome contrary to the popular verdict. The Election Commission should revert back to the old practice of ballot boxes to ensure the credibility of the electoral process, said a party resolution passed in the plenary session held in March this year in which the party expressed preference for ballot papers because of the concerns about the EVMs.
“It is imperative to ensure full faith in the electoral process,” said party’s spokesperson Rajeev Gowda.
The opposition parties have already reached at an understanding that they would exercise all means available to them in and outside of the Parliament to force the government and Election Commission to go back to the time-tested old ballot boxes system as it has proved to be flawless and credible.
The experts who deal with country’s election process also share the grievances of the opposition parties that the use of EVMs could help tilt the electoral verdict in favour of ruling party or coalition. They have asked the EC to work towards increasing confidence of voters on EVMs.
“The EC needs to be more proactive in increasing the confidence of voters in EVMs. There is no problem with the machines, but there may be some concerns over the process, so EC must address those. There were some concerns about the functioning of VVPAT in the recent by polls, so the EC should improve on the technology,” said a senior functionary of the Association for Democratic Reform, a non-governmental election watchdog.
It was the West Bengal chief minister and TMC leader Mamata Banerjee who took the initiative and brought all like-minded parties on board against the use of EVMs. During her recent visit to the national capital Ms Banerjee held a series of meeting with opposition leaders and stressed the need for unity within the opposition ranks.
“This is a matter on which all opposition parties agreed. We are planning to meet shortly. We went to Election Commission and demanded that the EC conduct the coming Lok Sabha election on ballot papers,” the West Bengal chief minister told reporters at the Parliament House.
The demand for scrapping the EVMs gained momentum after the assembly elections in the country’s most populated and politically sensitive northern state of Uttar Pradesh Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party, two key players in the state politics suffered heavy electoral losses and the BJP emerged as victorious. The outcome of the assembly polls led the leaders of SP and Akhilesh Yadav and Maywati to contend that the EVMs were tempered to help the BJP.
The issue also reached to the Supreme Court where the election body assured the court that it would introduce VVPAT machines in all polling booths across the country ahead of the 2019 general elections. However, the media reports suggested that the Commission was running way behind schedule on introducing VVPAT for all polling booths.
The media reports that caused concerns within the opposition ranks and file, also suggested that the Election Commission has so far managed to complete only 22 percent of its target by July this year. These reports led the opposition parties to knock at the door of election commission to mount pressure on it to revert to the old practice of use of ballot boxes.
The opposition said it is determined to ensure that next general elections are held by stamping the ballots. The joint opposition has also decided to take the issue to the people by resorting to
various methods like holding nation-wide rallies, public meetings and awareness campaign. The issue is also expected to come up during the ongoing Monsoon session of Parliament.
The tug of war between the opposition parties and the Election Commission over scrapping EVMs is expected to take serious dimensions in the coming days as the Commission has stuck to its contention that EVMs are full proof and cannot be tempered with.
“There is absolutely nothing about the integrity of the system…However, time and again whenever there are eruptions on this, we clarify the issue,” said Rawat, the chief of the election body.>