“If Independence is granted to India They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles.“ How can the country about which Winston Churchill had expressed such views maintain the concept of democracy even in the 76th year of independence? When India became independent on 15 August 1947, the world’s largest democracy was established. The function of this democracy was free and fair elections. There were questions in everyone’s mind that how elections would be conducted successfully in such a big democratic country that had just become independent. But defying all apprehensions, India not only successfully conducted elections but also took many historic steps. The Election Commission was established on 25 January 1950. In March 1950, Sukumar Singh was appointed the first Chief Election Commissioner of the country. Two years later, in 1952, simultaneous elections for the states and the Lok Sabha were held. From then till today, the Election Commission is responsible for conducting every small and big election held in the country. But as soon as the elections come, many questions and allegations keep being raised.
Amidst all the allegations and questions on EVMs and VVPATs, today we thought why not talk to a person who was the Chief Election Commissioner of the country. Stayed in Election Commission for 6 years. During his stay in the Election Commission, Lok Sabha elections were also held in the country. Assembly elections were held in dozens of states. His recent book ‘India’s Experiment with Democracy: The Life of a Nation through its Elections’ provides a cogent analysis of the role of the Election Commission and electoral, legal and regulatory issues. Joining us today is SY Qureshi sir, a 1971 batch IAS officer and former Chief Election Commissioner of India. S Y Qureshi Sir, you are very welcome.
Question: After every election, allegations are made by opposition parties regarding EVMs and VVPATs. Is there any basis for these allegations, or in the words of BJP, they are allegations made out of frustration of defeat and in reality EVMs cannot be tampered? Explain it to our audience in a little simple language.
answer: Former Chief Election Commissioner SY Qureshi said that ever since EVMs were introduced, every party has attacked them at one time or the other. BJP had made the biggest attack on it. In 2009, he also wrote a book on this. Every party has been attacking it. But the Election Commission tries to explain to the people that the allegations of hacking are completely wrong. it’s not possible. I became the Election Commissioner in 2010. The first thing I had done at that time was to call all the political parties. At that time and at that time, BJP’s attack was at its peak. I called the party meeting and wanted to know what your complaint was. Everyone came under the leadership of Chandrababu Naidu. He said that we are not saying that EVMs have been hacked. We are talking about transparency, that is, when we press the button, the vote goes into the machine. Now whether it went to the right place in the machine or not will not be visible to the common man. Because of this, when people come up with the issue of transparency, we asked them for the solution. So he said that if VVPAT is started then the matter will end. There are two things involved in the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail. Water Very Fiber i.e. Water Feeding Please verify that yes this is the person I have chosen. Paper audit trail i.e. there should be a proof in the form of paper whenever you want to count it whether the number of votes of the candidates shown in the machine is the same as in the slip or not. His idea was so good that we decided to start VVPAT in this meeting. We ordered both the companies to develop VVPAT. We have an Independence Expert Committee of five people. These are professors of electronics and computers from five different IITs. We do not adopt any technology until it is certified. We also asked him to supervise the company. It took a year and VVPAT was developed. Then the test took place. There was a lot of failure the first time. Then there was success in the second test. Then since 2012, VVPAT is being used. In 2013 this case went to the Supreme Court. We told in the Supreme Court that we have made 20 thousand machines. Two-three elections including Sheila Dikshit’s Delhi elections and Nagaland elections have been conducted. This is trade tested. Appreciating this, the Supreme Court then ordered the Government of India to provide funds. Elections for the entire country can be conducted through it. This was demanded by political parties ever since VVPAT was made. After that this complaint should have ended. But now the complaints are regarding the counting of VVPAT. What should be the VVPAT count? There is an issue regarding this. The Election Commission said that in every assembly constituency there are 250 to 300 booths. If you register an account with one of them, you will get a sample of how the machine is working properly. The case went to the Supreme Court. Political parties said it should be 10% to 20%. Then the Supreme Court said that count five machines in each assembly constituency. The same practice is continuing. Lakhs of machines have been accounted, lakhs of slips have been accounted. No errors were ever discovered.
Question: In 2009, only BJP was seen opposing EVM. BJP leader GVL Narasimha Rao had also written a book named ‘Democracy at Risk’. Lal Krishna Advani himself had written the preface of the book. In such a situation, what can be the way by which the people of the country or should we say the dissatisfied sections can trust EVMs?
answer: Going back to paper ballots is absolutely wrong. We have forgotten why paper balloting was abolished. Everyone will remember the era of booth capturing. Saw your latest Chandigarh case. There were only 34 ballot papers which were rigged. How can the black paper be rigged that 8 out of 34 votes were invalidated? No vote is invalid in EVM. If you press your button it goes straight to the machine. There are 0 invalid votes. After the Chandigarh episode, some people say that it should be done through EVM. So brother, you decide whether ballot paper or EVM is right. I understand that there is no point in going on the ballot paper. VVPAT needs to be improved. There are two improvements in it. First is Voter Variability i.e. when you press the button there is a screen above it. The candidate you have selected is on the top of the screen. Its symbol and name appear. You become satisfied that yes, this is what I chose. Within 7 seconds it goes into the automatically sealed box. I give a suggestion in this that the voter is not able to register it in 7 seconds. His attention remains here and there. There are two buttons that can be moved, one red and one green. If you are satisfied that yes, this is the candidate I have chosen, then verify by pressing the green button. But if it turns out wrong i.e. I pressed someone else’s button and something else is visible here. Press the red button and the machine will be tested after the alarm sounds. This reform can be brought. The Election Commission has already posted the FAQ on its website. It has 60-70 questions and their answers. Out of which 5-6 are related to EVM and VVPAT only. How many people have read it? Rather, first ask those who are cursing EVMs to read the FAQ, if not then keep quiet. First read it, if you find any mistake in it then point it out and raise it. So that the Election Commission can respond to your objection. You have not even read the answers of the Election Commission, it has become fashionable to say bad things about EVMs.