Madhya Pradesh elections: Congress loves blaming EVMs, and the administration is giving it enough reasons to

From lights going off to staff found drunk, a lot is happening in the state’s strong-rooms.

 |  4-minute read |   05-12-2018
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The Congress in Madhya Pradesh has a history of cribbing about Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), often casting doubts over this method of registering votes. Indeed, the party also cites it as one of the many non-verifiable factors that have contributed to it staying out of power in the state for the past 15 years.

In the run-up to counting for Assembly polls on December 11, the EVM finds itself in the midst of numerous controversies once again. Is the device really to blame? Or is it an inefficient administration that is contributing to the doubt? How does raising these doubts help the Congress?

If all else fails, blame the EVMs. If all this fails, there's always the EVM to blame. (Photo: PTI/file)

EVMs began to be most famously targeted by the Congress leadership from the time of the Ratlam Lok Sabha by-poll in the state, held in November 2015. Congress candidate and former Union minister Kantilal Bhuria made quite a spectacle of sleeping outside the strong-room in Jhabua, stating that he was doing so to prevent outsiders from entering the premises and manipulating EVMs.

Since that election, it has been Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) with state Congress leaders in every by-poll to sleep outside strong-rooms where EVMs are stored. This time too, the EVM has been under doubts, and the local district administrations have only contributed to them, much less dispel them.

In Bhopal, the light in the strong room in the Central Jail went off for an hour, prompting the Congress to cry foul yet again. In Sagar, a private bus carrying EVMs arrived 48 hours late, for which the administration offered no explanation. On polling day itself, staff was found in an inebriated state in a hotel in Shujalpur, with EVMs in their possession. In Satna, an SUV rammed into the wall of the strong-room in the intervening night between December 3 and December 4. Two people were arrested while four others fled the spot. The police said the accused were inebriated, and claimed they wanted to test the strength of the walls of the strong-room.

In such an atmosphere, Congress leaders — responding to a call by PCC President Kamal Nath to be “extra vigilant” against those wanting to manipulate EVMs “at the behest of the BJP” — began visiting strong-rooms. In one such visit in Rewa, in a video that was leaked on social media, the district collector, Preeti Maithil was heard telling a security man to shoot anyone who comes close to the strong-room.

Maithil’s statement may have been extreme, but was aimed at allaying any doubt present in the minds of people on EVM tampering.

It is not as if this constant doubting of EVMs has had no impact. The ECI has organised a challenge to hack EVMs, and also introduced the VVPAT (voter verified paper audit trail), a system that tells voters their vote has gone to the candidate it was intended for. The objective behind this move was to remove the doubts raised by the Congress about votes going to the BJP even when the voter had voted for someone else.

In MP, the VVPAT was first introduced in the Ater assembly by-polls in April 2017. In 2018, the VVPAT has been used in every constituency.

On Tuesday, Kamal Nath and Kapil Sibal were at the ECI to demand an inquiry into various incidents that have sown the seeds of doubt in people’s minds.

EVMs began to be most famously targeted by the Congress leadership from the time of the Ratlam Lok Sabha by-poll in the state, held in November 2015.EVMs began to be targeted by the Congress in the state from the time of the Ratlam Lok Sabha by-poll, in November 2015. (Photo for representation: PTI)

Why is the Congress, which seems supremely confident of wresting the state from the BJP this time, harping on EVM tampering? Former CM Digvijaya Singh said that one gets to hear a lot about the possibilities of hacking. He said many countries have gone back to ballot papers, and it would be prudent for India to do the same too.

The Congress will continue to attack the EVM because it has nothing to lose either way. If the results are favourable for the party, the doubts raised by it will not be mentioned. Interestingly, when asked about the victories it has had in EVM-based elections, the Congress explains them as the ones the “BJP didn’t want to win”.

If, however, the party is not successful, among other things, the EVM can take the hit.

Also read: From Naya Daur to Baahubali: How Congress changed its campaigning strategy in Madhya Pradesh


Rahul Noronha Rahul Noronha

The writer is Associate Editor, India Today.

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