By VINOD VARSHNEY
New Delhi. A joint civil society and political parties conference with more than 200 participants including from INC, CPIM, SP, BSP, CPI, NCP, TRS, RJD, RLD, Welfare Party & Swaraj India resolved yesterday to fight against the menace of machine, money and media power, which pose the gravest challenges to democracy in India. The conference was co-organized by ConstitutionalConduct Group (CCG), Jan Sarokar and People First.
Dr. Subhashis Banerji, Professor of Computer Science, IIT, Delhi made a technical presentation on how EVMs can be manipulated and why there is an urgent need to ensure verifiability and auditability of the voting process.
Politicians were unanimous that there is a need to count all VVPAT slips to be sure that EVM has functioned reliably. Senior Congress leader Mr. Digvijay Singh pointed out if symbols and names of the contestants are fed from a server, then why some software (malware) cannot be fed during this process from the server? “If the role of EVMs remains suspect in elections, then it would be tantamount to democracy getting controlled by technology.”
Mr. Sitaram Yechury of the CPIM questioned the way a message gets transmitted from the VVPAT unit to the control unit of EVMs. He insisted when a doubt occurred, there should be full counting of the VVPAT slips. Moreover, slips should be preserved for five years.
Mr. D. Raja of the CPI said that voting data are saved in a master computer and its master chip is imported from Japan. So how can you be sure of the integrity of such an arrangement? He suggested that the VVPAT slip should come in the hand of the voter first, and he after examining it would drop it in the ballot box. He also raised the issue of print on the slip disappearing after some time and demanded that better technology to print slips should be used and there should be full slip counting.
RLD leader Mr. Mairajuddin Ahmed questioned the role of senior political leaders of various parties who had helped in the first place to bring EVM into practice and now see what the result is—the democracy is in jeopardy. He insisted that this issue should not remain limited to civil society and conference halls like this. “Leaders should go out of Delhi to discuss the issue of threat to democracy with the people out there”.
Dr. Ilyas of the Welfare Party also spoke in the same vein accusing that all major parties had supported the Bill to introduce EVM in elections. He differed from other speakers and said that even counting 100 percent slips, was also not going to solve the problem.
Mr. Danish Ali of the BSP rued that whenever meetings were called by the ECI, top leaders of big parties except for the Left, never attended them. He appreciated the role of civil society which has finally taken this initiative to awaken political parties on the issue of Machine, Money and Media.
Mr. Ghanshyam Tiwari of SP said that the issue is not so much of the machine but of the machinery. When the entire electoral machinery degenerates, how can the machine remain insulated from the defect?
Mr. Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj Indiaopined in a sort of contrarian vein that EVMs had not influenced any big election so far. “There is no concrete evidence to prove it. But there is a possibility this may happen in the elections of 2024”. Outlining a feasible strategy he suggested that the issue of the ECI refusing to count VVPAT slips, be taken to the Supreme Court.
Social activist Mr. Gauhar Raza asserted, “As a scientist and engineer I say with confidence that EVMs can be hacked. This is shameful to assert that EVMs cannot be hacked at a time when machines and their activities on Moon and Mars can be controlled from the Earth.” He told that hacking requires a list of activities—the first is to buy someone who can buy the media. The second is to buy someone who can create the desired perception. Then comes the activity of hacking. But there is no need to hack EVMs everywhere, especially not required in the constituencies where victory is assured. You only need to identify booths where the contest is tough. And there you need to press a button from a distance of 500 meters and the job is done. These activities would require spending Rs 500 cr each and spending Rs 1,500 cr is not a big thing for agencies like ISI, CIA and China.