Shooting the machine

Whoever wins and loses today must know the EVM did not do it. It is futile — and dangerous — to target the rules of the game.

The Opposition’s clamour on EVM tampering is not new. In some elections in the past, parties that lost have sought to talk up apprehensions about the manipulation of electronic voting machines by the victor. The first such prominent spectre was held up at the national level in 2010 by L K Advani — patriarch of the party that had lost the Lok Sabha polls in 2009 and is now, strenuously, ironically, trying to shout down the Opposition on EVMs. On different occasions, the Congress and the BSP have articulated their suspicions about EVMs. It can be nobody’s case that the EC or the poll process is above questions. In fact, the protocols of the poll monitor are currently being interrogated from within. And despite the layered security systems designed to insulate the EVM, aberrations can arguably creep into an electoral exercise of this size and complexity. Yet, the current chorus led by 22 parties, and apparently backed by a former President of India and a former Chief Election Commissioner, is troubling. Involving a larger number of political actors than before, and armed with nothing more substantial than suspicion, it seeks not just to flag specific concerns — for instance, parties demanded, and the EC rejected, that VVPAT verification should come before, not after, the counting of votes — but to question the integrity of the poll process.

Given that no evidence of serious electoral wrong-doing has been presented and every EVM bogey has been slayed, the EC is going by what the Supreme Court ruled, the current questioning of EVMs, like the old questioning of EVMs, only points to the ungracious loser. Or in this case, suspected loser. The exit polls vary but they have all projected the NDA’s return to power. In that context, parties that fought the BJP, be it the Congress or regional parties, would appear to be taking preemptive steps to avoid confronting their own political failure. Whoever wins and loses today, however, parties must know the EVM did not do it. And that it is futile — and dangerous — to target the rules of the game.

India’s democracy is diverse and argumentative, but its sprawl is anchored by a shared faith in the credibility of the poll process. Even as everything must be done to make it error-free and more transparent, the bar for questioning its good faith and integrity must remain very high. If it gets a new lease of life, the BJP’s electoral dominance poses a challenge that must be countered politically. Its political opponents will need to summon a will to power to match the BJP’s. They will also need to craft the contours of an alternative politics, and to tell stories that engage the voter, speak to her hopes and aspirations. For the loser of Election 2019, there is no easy way out — no fall guy or machine.

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