Beyond suspicion: Electronic voting machines get thumbs up from former CECs; Here’s what they say

The two books offer plenty of insights into an election widely admired by the greatest democracies in the world.

The two books offer plenty of insights into an election widely admired by the greatest democracies in the world.

Even as the electronic voting machine (EVM) is caught in controversy over hacking allegations, it has been given the thumbs up by two former chief election commissioners ahead of the impending 17th general elections.
“Take my word for gospel. The EVM can’t be hacked,” said Navin Chawla, who oversaw the 2009 parliamentary elections as chief election commissioner (CEC), speaking at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Saturday. Participating in a session, Every Vote Counts: The Story of Elections in India, named after his new book, the former CEC said the question of the foolproof EVM has gone on a long judicial journey and every court agreed with its reliance in conducting fair elections.

“The EVM case went to the Kerala, Delhi and Bombay high courts and even the Supreme Court,” said Chawla, who devotes a separate chapter to the machine, ‘Controversy that Refuses to Die’, in his book, launched on the occasion. “I didn’t see the London demonstration. I didn’t even want to,” he said, referring to a news conference by a cyber expert in the British capital earlier this month, who claimed the EVM could be hacked.

The 12th edition of the ongoing JLF saw two sessions by former CECs — Chawla and his successor SY Quraishi — to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Election Commission this year. “The EVM can’t be hacked,” reiterated Quraishi, who has edited a new book on India’s elections, titled The Great March of Indian Democracy: Seven Decades of India’s Elections, with contributions from some of the foremost experts on elections. “We all saw the drama in London,” said Quraishi, who brings together a range of perspectives on elections from around the world. Chawla and Quraishi are among the five CECs (TN Seshan, TS Krishnamurthy and JM Lyngdoh are the others), who have authored books on India’s elections. In 2014, Quraishi published his first book on the elections, titled An Undocumented Wonder — The Making of the Great Election.

Coming only months ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the well-attended sessions by the two former CECs also brought out the colour, cumbersomeness and challenges in conducting elections in the world’s largest democracy. While Quraishi spelled out voter apathy and money power of parties and candidates as the biggest challenges to conducting free and fair elections, Chawla calls for electoral reforms towards purging of criminality, transparency in spending and funding, making bribery in election a criminal offence, deregistering of parties not contesting elections, and constitutional provision regarding removal of election commissioners. “My main worry list is money and muscle power,” said Chawla, referring to the statutory spending list of `70 lakh by a Lok Sabha candidate. “We all know that this limit exceeds too far (on the ground),” he added.

The two books offer plenty of insights into an election widely admired by the greatest democracies in the world. Chawla begins the first chapter of his book with the story of the single voter in the Gir forest of Gujarat, for whose vote the EC sends an eight-member team every election. Quraishi’s story refers to former Rajasthan Congress chief CP Joshi losing an election by one vote. “His wife had not voted because she and their daughter had gone to a temple on the voting day,” said Quraishi, giving a three-point lesson in elections in a lighter vein. “Every vote counts. You can’t take your family for granted. And the most important temple on election day is the polling station.”

The two former CECs also praised the first chief election commissioner, Sukumar Sen, who had the unenviable task of creating the first electoral rolls of the country, and Seshan, who had a famous slugfest with then prime minister PV Narasimha Rao. “Sukumar Sen is the unsung hero of the Indian elections,” said Chawla. “TN Seshan gave teeth to the Election Commission,” he added, crediting the institution with building a structure, “brick by brick”, over the last
70 years.

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