On the day 22 Opposition parties approached the Election Commission and drew its attention to reports of what they called suspicious EVM movements and demanded verification of VVPAT slips before the counting of votes and not later, the Commission dismissed allegations of EVMs being switched and said the machines used in the Lok Sabha elections were “absolutely safe” in strongrooms.
Referring to the allegations and complaints, the Commission said it would like to “emphatically and unambiguously” clarify that all such reports and allegations are “absolutely false and factually incorrect”. The visuals on TV and social media, it said, “do not pertain to any EVMs used during the polls”.
In a statement, the Commission said, after the close of polls, all polled EVMs and VVPATs are brought under security cover to designated strongrooms, which are sealed with double locks in the presence of candidates and observers of the Commission. The entire process of storage and sealing of the strongroom is videotaped.
“Continuous CCTV camera coverage is done till completion of counting. Each strongroom is guarded with round-the-clock security by Central Armed Police Forces. Further, candidates or their designated agents remain present at the strongroom for 24×7 vigil at all times,” the statement said.
On counting day, the strongrooms are opened in the presence of candidates or their agents and observers. This is also videotaped. Before counting begins, the counting agents are shown the address tags, seals and serial number of EVMs to satisfy themselves on the genuineness and authenticity of the machines used in the polls, it said.
“The aspersions in clips being used in media merely pertain to the storage or movement of reserve unused EVMs,” the statement said. It made it clear that any case of lapse, even in handling of reserve EVMs, is thoroughly investigated and disciplinary action taken against the officers responsible.
On Tuesday, 22 Opposition parties led by the Congress approached the Commission, drawing its attention to reports of what it called suspicious EVM movements and demanding that verification of VVPAT slips in five randomly identified polling stations should be carried out before counting of votes and not after the completion of the last round of counting.
The Opposition parties told the Commission that “if any discrepancy is found anywhere during the VVPAT verification, 100% counting of paper slips of VVPATs of all polling stations of that assembly segments should be done”.
The Commission is likely to give a reply to the demands of the parties Wednesday. Senior Congress leader and lawyer Abhishek Singhvi argued the Opposition’s case before the Commission. Opposition leaders said the poll panel has assured them that a meeting of the full Commission will be held Wednesday to look into their demands. Opposition leaders, however, said they were not very hopeful since the EC’s “body language was not very positive”.
The BJP called the Opposition move a desperate attempt in the face of certain defeat. “Opposition parties are desperately seeking alibi for their impending massive defeat and their sudden mistrust is unsurprising and unimaginary. When they win, as they did in state polls recently, EVMs are trustworthy. But when they lose, they become questionable. Their selective trust in the EVMs is hypocritical and mischievous. Their blatant effort at rubbishing the predicted pro-BJP mandate is an insult to the Indian democracy. The Opposition parties look very small not in their defeat, but in their condemnable conduct,” BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao said.
Before meeting the Commission, top Opposition leaders, including Ashok Gehlot, Ahmed Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress, TDP’s N Chandrababu Naidu, AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal, TMC’s Derek O’Brien, SP’s Ram Gopal Yadav, BSP’s Satish Chandra Mishra, DMK’s Kanimozhi, CPM’s Sitaram Yechury, CPI’s S Sudhakar Reddy and D Raja and NCP’s Praful Patel, met at the Constitution Club in New Delhi. The meeting, which started around 1.30 pm, went on for an hour, following which the leaders left for the Commission where they had scheduled a meeting with the poll panel.
The leaders were initially supposed to walk to the Commission. However, the proposed march was called off due to the heat and the inconvenience it would cause to the public. The idea of the march had been floated by Chandrababu Naidu.
Sources said the leaders discussed reports of EVM movements and possibilities of voting machine tampering. Some of them briefly mentioned that the Opposition should not waste time in staking claim to government formation in the event of the NDA falling short of the half-way mark. Leaders cutting across party lines were dismissive of the exit poll predictions.
Speaking to the media at the Constitution Club, NCP leader Praful Patel said, “EC has decided to partially match EVMs with VVPAT. We want that if discrepancies are found, then 100% VVPAT slips must be counted. Also, instead of matching five EVMs with VVPAT slips after the counting is over, we want it to be done before the counting begins. There are so many videos and reports of EVMs being taken in private vehicles and without proper handling. The EC must probe this and clarify.”
Naidu said former Chief Election Commissioners have also “endorsed” the view of the Opposition parties and asked why the Commission cannot take up verification of VVPATs first. “Today, the former President of India has made it very clear that it is the duty of the Election Commission to maintain transparency and also create confidence among Indian voters,” he said.