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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 17 July 2024

Fresh political slugfest over EVM tampering claims; defamation notice issued to newspaper by poll body

Congress' ally and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav also questioned the credibility of EVMs and demanded that all future elections should be conducted through ballot papers

PTI New Delhi Published 16.06.24, 08:17 PM
Representational image.

Representational image. File picture.

A fresh political slugfest erupted on Sunday over EVM tampering claims with Rahul Gandhi and other opposition leaders citing a media report that alleged the Shiv Sena candidate in Mumbai North West Lok Sabha constituency was found using a mobile phone "connected" to an electronic voting machine during the counting of votes on June 4.

However, Vandana Suryavanshi, returning officer of the constituency, dismissed the report in 'mid-day' newspaper as "false news" and said a defamation notice has been issued to the publication. She asserted that the EVM is a standalone system, not programmable and has no wireless communication capabilities.

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The BJP hit out at the opposition leaders over the issue and demanded that the Election Commission should prosecute all those who "amplified the lie" by sharing the news report.

Questioning the reliability of EVMs, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and others on Sunday also quoted a post by Elon Musk, chairman of social media platform X and CEO of Tesla, in which he talked about eliminating EVMs and claimed the risk of hacking was "too high".

"We should eliminate electronic voting machines. The risk of being hacked by humans or AI, while small, is still too high," Musk said while responding to a a post by US politician Robert F Kennedy Jr alleging Puerto Rico’s primary elections experienced "hundreds of voting irregularities related to electronic voting machines".

Congress' ally and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav also questioned the credibility of EVMs and demanded that all future elections should be conducted through ballot papers.

"EVMs in India are a 'black box', and nobody is allowed to scrutinise them. Serious concerns are being raised about transparency in our electoral process.

"Democracy ends up becoming a sham and prone to fraud when institutions lack accountability," Gandhi said in a post on X and tagged the media report which claimed that a relative of Shiv Sena's candidate Ravindra Waikar, who won the polls from Mumbai's North-West seat by 48 votes, had a phone that unlocks an EVM.

But former Union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar of the BJP countered Musk's criticism of EVMs and said that the billionaire businessman's view may apply to the US and other places where they use regular compute platforms to build "Internet-connected voting machines".

"But Indian EVMs are custom designed, secure and isolated from any network or media - No connectivity, no Bluetooth, wifi, Internet. ie there is no way in. Factory-programmed controllers that cannot be reprogrammed," Chandrasekhar said in a post on X.

"Electronic voting machines can be architected and built right as India has done. We would be happy to run a tutorial Elon," the BJP leader added.

Shiv Sena (UBT) leaders Aditya Thackeray and Priyanka Chaturvedi also shared the news report and demanded that the CCTV footage of the counting day be released.

"This is a fraud at the highest level and yet the @ECISVEEP continues to sleep. The ‘manipulated’ winner’s relative was carrying a mobile phone at the counting centre which had the ability to unlock EVM machine. If ECI doesn’t step in this will be the biggest election result scam after Chandigarh Mayor election and will see this battle in the courts. This brazenness has to be punished," Chaturvedi said on X.

The news report claimed: "Police are investigating as to how the accused got a hold of a phone that received OTP that unlocked machine." Reacting to the news report, Vandana Suryavanshi, returning officer of the constituency, said an OTP is not needed to unlock an EVM.

"The EVM is a standalone system and there is no need for an OTP to unlock it. It is not programmable and has no wireless communication capabilities. It is a complete lie being spread by a newspaper.

"We have issued notice to 'mid-day' newspaper under sections 499, 505 of the Indian Penal Code for defamation and spreading false news," Suryavanshi said in a press conference.

According to Vanrai police, Mangesh Pandilkar, brother-in-law of Waikar, was booked under Indian Penal Code section 188 (disobeying official order) on Wednesday for allegedly using a mobile phone at a counting centre in Goregaon on June 4, when results of the general elections were announced.

Suryavanshi said the personal mobile phone of one Dinesh Gurav, the data entry operator of Jogeshwari assembly constituency, was found in the hands of an unauthorised person and action is being taken in this regard.

"Data entry and vote counting are two different aspects. An OTP enables the ARO to open the encore login system for data entry. The counting process is independent and has nothing to do with unauthorised use of mobile phone, which is an unfortunate incident and is being probed," Suryavanshi added.

"Advance technical features and robust administrative safeguards are in place to rule out any possibility of manipulation. Safeguards include conducting everything in the presence of candidates or their agents," she said.

The official said neither Waikar nor losing candidate Amol Kirtikar of the Shiv Sena (UBT) had sought a recount but verification of invalid postal ballots was demanded and it was done.

Suryavanshi said CCTV footage in connection with the issue cannot be given unless there are orders from the competent court.

BJP spokesperson Shehzad Poonawalla cited the poll official's clarification to demand action against opposition leaders.

"All those who spread and amplified the lie that OTP is needed for EVMs must be prosecuted @ECISVEEP " Rahul Gandhi amplified this article “Phone which had ability to unlock EVM” says Priyanka Chaturvedi "This level of lies," he said on X.

Targeting the BJP over the issue, former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav said, "Today, when fears of EVM tampering are being expressed in many elections of the world and the world's renowned technology experts are openly writing about the danger of EVM tampering, then what is the reason behind the insistence on using EVM, BJP should clarify this." The opposition parties have been raising concerns over EVMs for some time now and had demanded a 100 per cent count of the VVPAT slips which was not allowed.

Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Telegraph Online staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.

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