It is ridiculous for some political parties to demand that Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) be replaced by paper ballot, as they did at the meeting of seven national parties and 51 regional ones with Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) O P Rawat on Monday. This would amount to backpedalling on a reform which has been extremely efficacious and is largely responsible for a virtual end to the practice of booth capturing which was endemic in the years before EVMs were introduced.
There are stray cases of malfunctioning of EVMs but clearly, this is exceptional. CEC Nasim Zaidi when he was at the helm of the Election Commission in June 2017 had maintained that the ‘failure rate’ of EVMs was a mere 0.7 per cent in most elections. He had asserted unequivocally that the EVMs used by the EC were ‘non-tamperable’ and with a wide use of paper trail machines progressively, the issue of tamperability stood closed.
In June 2017, when the Election Commission invited parties to prove that the EVMs could be hacked, only two parties accepted the challenge but they too opted out of the event. Originally, 13 parties had questioned the reliability of EVMs.
Those who are again questioning the use of EVMs are only doing so to fuel unjustifiable doubts over the country’s election process and to make lame excuses for their defeats. The perpetual whiners need to be exposed before the public and their bluff needs to be called.
The other significant issue, taken up at the all-party meeting with the CEC related to the demand of several parties for a cap on election-related expenditure by political parties so that a level playing field could be ensured. This is sought in addition to the ceiling on the poll expenditure of candidates.
There is indeed no reason this should be opposed and that the BJP has expressed its opposition to it is deeply regrettable. The party was represented at the meeting with general secretary Bhupendra Yadav and Union minister J P Nadda.
It is vital for the party’s credibility that the opinion voiced by these two leaders be over-ruled. The BJP case for rejecting a ceiling on party expenditure has no legs to stand on especially for a party that swears by transparency, and the issue must be deliberated upon at the highest levels.
Bhupendra Yadav’s reasoning that since all parties have to declare their expenditure in their income tax filings there should be no cap on party expenditure is lame and indefensible. His plea that all parties should be given all opportunities and facilities to advertise and that there should be transparency in crowd-funding is fair but this should not mean that the ruling dispensation must ride roughshod with greater resources at its command due to being in power.
True, crowdfunding must be transparent and for that, the EC must devise uniform, set standards.
Evidently, the EC seems to have given up on the idea of holding simultaneous elections across the country for Parliament and State assemblies in the foreseeable future. That there was a very little discussion on this in the meeting is perhaps a pointer to that.
Prime Minister Modi continues to favour this in principle and makes no bones about it but with elections to the Lok Sabha only a few months away, there are doubts over its practicality. The idea otherwise seems worth pursuing in the longer run.
As it appeared, the EC may well give in to the suggestion of some parties to increase the number of constituencies where results of EVM and paper audit trail device are matched so as to enhance the confidence of voters and parties in the reliability of the voting mode. But the enhanced expenditure of this has to be kept in mind.
The immediate challenges for the EC are the assembly polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram but after those, the Lok Sabha elections would be close at hand.