Caesar’s wife & EVM must be above doubt
The Election Commission has conceded two instances of wrongdoing in processes involving voting machines in the Madhya Pradesh elections after controversy broke.
The commission insisted that the violations were confined to procedures, none of the machines was tampered with and the sanctity of the polls was intact. But a shadow has crept back barely six months before the general election and at a time the credibility of almost every venerated institution in the country has come under stress.
The incident that drew intense attention was the transportation of a busload of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in a vehicle without a number plate to the collector’s office in Sagar district on Friday, 48 hours after the polling took place on Wednesday.
The machines were from Khurai, the Assembly constituency from where Madhya Pradesh home minister and BJP leader Bhupendra Singh is contesting. The Congress called for vigil against a “BJP conspiracy to rig counting”.
The Election Commission said on Friday night the machines were from the reserve category meant for back-up. On Saturday night, the commission issued a fresh statement saying an official has been suspended for delay in depositing the reserve machines in Khurai.
“There has not been any tampering whatsoever with the machines. The responsible Nayab Tehsildar Rajesh Mehra has been suspended for the delayed submission of the machines,” the commission said in the statement.
On Friday night, the commission had admitted another transgression by election officials in the same state but in another district, Shajapur.
Four election officials carrying electronic voting machines were found checking into a hotel linked to a BJP supporter on Tuesday, the eve of the polling.
The Election Commission confirmed that the officials checked into the hotel, which is against the rules. But the commission added that, soon after the news broke, the officials were replaced and the machines were found intact with no sign of any attempt to tamper with them. The reserve machines were not used for the next day’s polls, it said in a statement.
This statement was issued by the commission in Delhi on Friday after some Congress leaders tweeted about the hotel swoop.
It is possible that the commission had issued an earlier clarification in Madhya Pradesh. But the decision of the headquarters to keep silent till the Opposition cried foul has made it tougher to battle the charges of foul play.
The commission’s transparency time was shorter after Friday’s transportation of the EVMs to the collector’s office but, again, it was in response to tweets from Congress leaders.
On the machines bussed to the collector’s office, the commission said: “These are EVMs kept as ‘reserve’. These were stationed at some of the police stations, to be used as replacement for malfunctioning machines during the poll. Such machines were to be stored separately than the polled EVMs. Strong room having polled EVMs was neither opened nor was supposed to be opened.”
The commission’s manual does say unused machines should be kept separately.
But the manual also says that the unused EVMs should be “collected on the next day” of poll from the officials concerned. In Khurai, the machines were deposited after 48 hours.
The controversies suggest the commission has been found short on one objective mentioned in the manual issued in July 2018: avoid arousing suspicion.
“The store rooms where the EVMs of category… ‘D’ (unused or reserve machines) will be kept is to be decided in advance and intimated to the political parties/ candidates. It should not be in the vicinity of the collection and counting center so as to arouse any suspicion,” the commission’s manual on electronic voting machines says.
The trust deficit comes at a time institution after institution, with the CBI at the forefront, is getting sucked into one controversy or another.
Amid allegations of tampering of EVMs in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, the Opposition had demanded a return to paper ballot.
The Congress on Saturday made a formal complaint to the Election Commission and directed workers in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where polling is complete, to keep round-the-clock vigil till counting day — December 11 — on the strongrooms where the EVMs are stored.
In its petition to the Election Commission, the Congress said: “A school bus without number plate carrying EVM machines reached the office of Sagar district collector 48 hours after the close of polling. This was a matter of great surprise since all EVMs that had been used in the election had been deposited in the district headquarters where strong rooms are situated.”
The petition added: “It is also interesting that the machines, according to the collector, are from Khurai, an area where the BJP home minister is contesting. This incident is a clear case of certain parties/individuals engaging in corrupt practices to manipulate the outcome of the recently concluded election.”
Alleging an attempt to manipulate the result of the election held in Madhya Pradesh on Wednesday, the Congress demanded that these machines be segregated till an inquiry finds the truth.
Party leader Kamal Nath appealed to the bureaucracy to ensure fair counting.
Jyotiraditya Scindia, who has been the face of the Congress campaign, wrote to the state’s chief electoral officer and asked party workers to mount surveillance to “foil the BJP’s conspiracy” to rig counting.
“This attempt to subvert people’s mandate is murder of democracy under the government’s watch,” he tweeted.
The Congress, in its petition to the Election Commission, demanded strict segregation of used and unused EVMs, round-wise counting and written submission of results to candidates after every round.
Reacting to the poll panel’s statement that the EVMs were reserve machines, a Congress leader said: “They have not given us this reason…. The law does not allow EVMs to be kept in police stations for 48 hours.”