With the introduction of EVMs, it is argued, polling booths can no longer be captured. But an accidental video from Faridabad, barely 50 kilometres from the Nirvachan Sadan in New Delhi, is confirmation that booths can still be captured and indeed are being captured.
The video shows a man going up to the booth every time a voter approaches the EVM. He bends down on the machine and his movement suggests that he is either pressing the button himself or is forcing the voter to press the desired key. Not surprisingly, he does it every time a woman approaches the booth. In the short clip, he is seen going up to the booth three times.
For once, the Election Commission acted with alacrity and had the man, a polling agent of the BJP, arrested. Following demands on social media, where the video was shared, the Commission was also forced to cancel polling at the booth and order a re-poll. But the decision was taken only after a spirited defence by EC officials that the integrity of polling had not been vitiated or compromised.
It was rightly pointed out by several citizens that there was no way the Commission could arrive at such a conclusion. Hours would have lapsed between the time the video was shot and the time when it was uploaded, noticed and the Observer asked to enquire. Who would be certain of the number of votes the polling agent would have manipulated in that one hour or longer?
Shockingly, the polling agent was released on bail by the police within hours. And the agent was brazen enough to claim that he was merely trying to help illiterate village women. But three of them, one after another, in less than two minutes ? And when none of them had sought his help. And doesn’t the Commission keep dummy EVM’s to show voters how to use them ? If at all help was sought, it should have been the job of the polling personnel to help. But the polling agent exceeded his brief, violated the law, by all accounts ‘helped’ voters to cast votes in favour of his party and seems to be getting away with the transgression.
The incident is serious because if one polling agent of the ruling party at one polling booth could do this despite the presence of polling officials and security personnel, there is no reason why this could not have been engineered on a larger scale in the rest of the country.
The EC or the police have not disclosed the identity of the agent or details of his interrogation. This is in marked contrast to other criminal activities, in which details are shared in real time. But the veil of secrecy has ensured that the incident will be forgotten in the heat and dust of the campaign and may well be brushed under the carpet.
Isn’t the Election Commission using CCTV at the booths? Why has no demonstrative action been taken against the security personnel and the polling personnel? Why are their statements not being released to the public domain? One hopes these details will surface once the elections get over. And now that there is incontrovertible evidence that booths can be captured even in the age of EVMs, the Commission will have to do a lot more hard work to restore the credibility of the election.
From across the country voters have complained that despite having an Aadhaar number and a permanent address, their names were missing from the electoral roll at the booth. It has been reported that voters, educated voters at that, have pressed one key on the EVM but the VVPAT slip showed a different name. Since VVPAT slips are visible for seven seconds (three according to some), how do voters prove what they have seen?
The Election Commission has made matters worse by updating polling percentages in constituencies several days after polling. How do figures released the night of the polling get changed upwards four or five days later? There is still no satisfactory explanation from the EC.
Even during the days of paper ballots and violent capture of booths, it was axiomatic that the manipulation worked in places where those capturing the booths enjoyed popular support. The results by an large reflected popular will. But it was an aberration, an attempt to steal a mandate which had to be resisted.
Stealing the mandate with or without EVMs cannot be acceptable.