Election Commission and EVMs

Raman Swamy

First, the Shiv Sena launches its fiercest-ever tirade against Modi's BJP on the EVM rigging controversy. "The BJP has corrupted EVMs", says the latest Saamna editorial, "the BJP has made EVMs into a machine that can be used for its own purpose".

Within hours Nitin Gadkari, known to be the eyes and ears of the RSS in the Union Cabinet, comes out with an unexpected attack on the Election Commission; "I was there in Bhandhara constituency at the time (when voting for the by-election was going on). So many EVMs were shut or didn't work and they (the Election Commission) are saying its because of the heat. What do they mean due to heat? It was always hot here".

It is bizarre that a top-ranking Modi minister should be casting aspersions on the Election Commission—this is something that even the most outspoken Opposition leaders have not yet picked up the courage to say out loud till now.

But there is more. It was the Sena mouthpiece which was the first to lambast the Commission in explicit language. "The present Election Commission and its machinery", said Saamna, "have become like slaves of the government... the Election Commission has become the mistress (of those in power)".

Just in case anybody thought that might have been an unauthorised outburst by a staff writer whose head would soon roll, Sena MP Sanjay Raut echoed the sentiment and even rubbed it in for greater impact. "Our people", he told newsmen, "had caught BJP workers red-handed while distributing money during Palghar by-poll, but the Election Commission did not take any action. If similar inaction is shown by EC all over India, then it only means EC is acting like a 'tawaif' (mistress) of a political party".

The Saamna editorial also double-underlines such suspicions. Referring to the numerous complaints by various candidates about technical snags in EVMs and VVPAT machines during the Bhandara-Gondia and Palghar Lok Sabha by-polls, it pointedly reveals a trade secret—that elections can be manipulated in many cunning ways.

It says that whereas every single vote is precious and everybody knows that each vote can be a deciding factor in closely contested seats, "thousands of voters got tired and bored waiting in queues when machines malfunctioned and many of them returned without casting their votes". The clear hint here is that there are many ingenious ways to ensure that fewer voters exercise their franchise in areas known to be strongholds of rival candidates.

"The present Election Commission", says the editorial, "are not ready to take action when they receive complaints of distribution of alcohol and money". Nor do poll officials pay any heed when the ruling party behaves in an "autocratic manner and make threatening statements".

The Shiv Sena's mouthpiece also took a sarcastic dig at the Commission for blaming the hot and humid weather for the malfunctioning of EVMs. "The temperature keeps fluctuating. However, we never heard of the prime minister's flight engines having stopped working due to hot weather or computers of the BJP's social media cell malfunctioning due to hostile weather", it quipped somewhat loquaciously, but the point was sharp: "Then why did EVMs stop functioning?"

The major thrust of the Sena's contention was it is "dangerous" for democracy when people lose faith in the election process. "Our country can no longer be called the largest democracy in the world. EVMs have spoilt the democracy. Those in power at present have made democracy their mistress with their autocratic mindset".
In case anyone missed the point, it reiterated: "People not trusting the election process is dangerous for democracy". And elaborated: There is a discontent among people against the BJP, yet the party is winning elections and instances of EVMs malfunctioning only gives an impetus to the belief that there is a "setting" of EVMs that ensures the party wins.

This is when the alarm bells must have been set ringing in Sangh circles and Nitin Gadkari was assigned the task of swinging into action. What Gadkari said may appear on the surface to be a harsh criticism of the election process but is clearly intended to be a damage control exercise with two objectives in mind—i) placate the Shiv Sena by seeming to agree with some of the points flagged by it; ii) protect Modi and Shah from any direct or collateral damage.

He focused on the easy part first, by agreeing that the excessive heat factor was a ludicrous excuse for faulty EVMs and VVPATs. He said he himself was "appalled" by the reason given by the poll body that EVMs and VVPAT machines failed because of the excessive heat and dust in the region.

The Minister freely admitted that it was true that many EVMs were not working and the Election Commission should order an immediate inquiry into the incident.

Then he came to his core message: "The Election Commission is responsible for that. It is not a good thing. If such mistakes happen, I think they should have an inquiry, if the Election Commission has any problems, it is their fault".

It needs to be duly noted that a very senior Union Cabinet Minister said this in an interview to a national news television channel. It was not, as the Prime Minister predicted during the Karanataka campaign, some Opposition party griping about EVMs after losing the elections.

Gadkari was however quickly on to his main point—he made it clear that the BJP government should under no circumstances be blamed for the mistakes of the poll body.

"The Election Commission is an autonomous body. It's not a part of BJP Government nor do we control them. Blaming our government is wrong".

Just in case anybody had failed to grasp what he was spying in its entirety, he added: "If machines malfunction, how is the Prime Minister at fault? How is Mbdiji related to this? How is BJP related to this or how am I related to this or how is the government related to this?"

A good attempt at assuaging the Shiv Sena and deflecting attention away from Modi and Shah. Nitin Gadkari had, once again, proved his worth to both party and parent body.

Vol. 51, No.1, Jul 8 - 14, 2018