As many as 16 parties including Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Trinamool Congress (TMC) came together on Monday to raise concern against electronic voting machines (EVMs).
The parties approached the Election Commission (EC) and demanded that till all concerns over the use of EVMs are addressed, elections should only be held using ballot papers. They told the EC that lack of trust among parties regarding the electronic devices is “too deep-seated and pervasive”. After that, the EC reportedly told them that it would convene an all-party meeting to discuss the issue.
The Opposition has often over the past attributed the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) victories in state assembly elections to EVM tampering. Though the demand for ballot boxes has brought most of the Opposition parties together there are some which are not supporting this demand like the AIADMK, the Telangana Rashtriya Samithi (TRS) and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD).
“Till the time the issue of EVM tampering and malfunction is addressed and a system of tamper-proof EVMs is technologically established, to the satisfaction of all the political parties, the forthcoming elections should be conducted under the old paper ballot system only,” the parties said in a joint memorandum to the Election Commission.
Paper ballots are a “permissible mode of balloting accepted worldwide, and the discretion of the Election Commission under Section 61A should be exercised only after all issues are addressed by it to the satisfaction of all political parties”, the memorandum stated, as reported by The Indian Express.
The Opposition delegation was led by Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and included leaders such as CPM’s TK Rangarajan, SP’s Naresh Aggrawal, BSP’s Satish Chandra Mishra, Trinamool Congress’s Saugata Roy and Mukul Roy, JD(U)’s Ali Anwar, NCP’s Majeed Memon, CPI’s D Raja and the DMK’s Tiruchi Siva, the report said.
However, it was TMC chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee who met the Congress leaders on Monday to consolidate the Opposition’s stance on the issue. She acknowledged the need for a grand alliance against the BJP and said that EVMs may be the “first step” towards such an issue-based collaboration, the report said. “EVM is the next big issue for us. We want to revert to the ballot system,” TMC’s floor leader in the Rajya Sabha Derek O’Brien announced in the Parliament on Thursday. “This is not an issue of just one party. All like-minded parties are playing as a team to make this happen,” he said.
The parties are expected to further file a fresh appeal with the EC over the next week to consider an immediate switch to ballot papers.
Meanwhile, for its part, the EC has maintained that EVMs are tamper proof, and that VVPATs provide an additional layer to guarantee that voting is accurately captured. It has also repeatedly urged parties to refrain from expressing doubts about their efficiency.
In a political resolution adopted by the Congress at its 84th plenary session in March, the party had urged the EC to revert to ballot papers instead of EVMs. “There are apprehensions among political parties and common people over the misuse of EVMs to manipulate the election outcome contrary to the popular verdict. To ensure the credibility of the electoral process, EC should revert to the old practice of paper ballot, as most major democracies have done,” it said.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Sanjay Singh has been tasked to draft the points of contention with the help of TMC MP Subrata Bakshi. The AAP was among the first parties to cast doubts about EVMs after the 2017 Punjab Assembly elections. Earlier, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray too had demanded that the 2019 Lok Sabha election should be conducted using ballot papers instead of EVMs.
However, Rajya Sabha MP and head of BJP’s media cell Anil Baluni said that Opposition parties only complain about EVMs when they lose elections. “They do not make a hue and cry when they win an election conducted through EVMs. The problem, actually, is not with the EVM but with the intention of these parties”, he was quoted as saying by The Hindustan Times.
In July 2017, during an all-party meeting, EC had announced that all future elections would be conducted with EVMs coupled with VVPATs. And since then, the Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat has made public statements ruling out a reversal of the decision, asserting that the new EVMs have been designed with more stringent checks to rule out tampering or manipulation.
With inputs from agencies