The government defended electronic voting machines during a discussion on electoral reforms in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday and protested adverse comments on the Election Commission, while the Opposition complained about the way the Lok Sabha polls were conducted.
Initiating the discussion, the Trinamul Congress’s Derek O’Brien underscored the need to discuss the Election Commission and flagged how BJP leaders had repeatedly flouted a directive to keep the defence forces out of the poll narrative. “We need to look into how the Election Commission is appointed,” he asserted. Calling for a return to ballot papers, O’Brien said being anti-EVM did not make anyone anti-technology.
The BJP’s Bhupendra Yadav dwelt at length on simultaneous polls as a key electoral reform and urged the Opposition not to doubt EVMs — pointing out that every party had won elections at some point or the other when voting had been held with EVMs.
Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad questioned the political morality of his opponents. “Why is it that you question EVMs only when we win an election? This is (maintaining) double standard.”
Responding to Congressman Kapil Sibal’s contention that the Narendra Modi government had systematically changed laws in its first term to facilitate funding for political parties to suit the BJP, Prasad wanted to know why the Opposition did not object to this when the amendments were brought to the Rajya Sabha. He pointed out that the Opposition had a large enough majority to stall them.
However, all these amendments were brought in through the Finance Bill, over which the Rajya Sabha does not have veto powers.
As for the general criticism of the BJP talking up the armed forces during the poll campaign, Prasad likened it to the narrative in the country after the 1971 war when people credited then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with defeating and breaking up Pakistan.
Sibal also referred to the BJP flouting the Election Commission’s advisory to all political parties to refrain from using the armed forces in their campaign. He ran into rough weather over a comment suggesting that the poll panel had been silent when the BJP flouted the advisory.
The Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav was of the view that there can be no denying that people’s confidence in EVMs had eroded and stressed the need to restore faith in the election process by returning to ballot papers.
The BJD’s Prasanna Acharya called for strengthening VVPATs and supported the Opposition demand for counting the paper trail slips before counting the votes registered in the EVMs.
Referring to the BJP’s fondness for Sardar Patel, CPM leader T.K. Rangarajan said: “Patel would never have taken foreign money or corporate money to contest elections.”
Satish Mishra of the BSP demanded complete tallying of votes polled on EVMs with the VVPAT slips.