EVM-tampering is a hotly debated topic worldwide, but somehow has become a frequent feature of political vitriol in India, right from the year they were introduced.
At a London “hackathon”, a self-proclaimed Indian cyber expert, Syed Shuja, held a press conference claiming electronic voting machines (EVMs) can be hacked and that the 2014 parliamentary election was “rigged”. He demanded an investigation into this and said he had fled India in 2014 because he felt threatened because of his knowledge of the alleged “rigging”. EVM-tampering is a hotly debated topic worldwide, but somehow has become a frequent feature of political vitriol in India, right from the year they were introduced. But, what has made Shuja’s press conference especially controversial is the fact that Congress leader and former Union minister Kapil Sibal attended it.
The optics of a senior Congress leader lending his heft to an event where an unsubstantiated claim is made—the event organiser has distanced itself from Shuja’s presser—are bad enough. But what is really damaging for democracy in the country is that the said leader attended an event that puts the Election Commission of India (ECI), a statutory body whose political independence is crucial to the exercise of democracy in India, under a cloud. Calling it a “motivated slug fest”, the ECI has stressed that it “firmly stands by the empirical facts about foolproof nature of ECI EVMs deployed in elections in India”. In June 2017, the ECI arranged for an EVM-hack challenge where political parties were asked to demonstrate how the machines can be tampered with. Just two parties—Nationalist Congress Party and Communist Party of India (Marxist)—turned up, and even they did not participate. ECI has also made it mandatory for every EVM to have Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), to ensure there is no tampering. Such sustained attacks on the credibility of the EVMs without efforts to prove that they can be hacked—the Aam Aadmi Party demonstrated a hack in the Delhi Assembly, but that was not an ECI machine—cause an erosion of people’s trust in democratic processes and not just the machines. Parties must be ready to demonstrate that the ECI’s machines can be hacked, or just stop hurling dirt at the EVMs in the hope of politico-electoral gains.