It seems that the electronic voting machine (EVM) has permanently placed itself at the centre of elections in India. Every pre-and post-poll debate, right from the national election to state elections to block representative elections, starts afresh with allegations and counter allegations of tampering. Tempers run high, and the sore-throat media, even before the results are declared, take booster shots, and with all the energy at their command, are ready to shout in their obnoxiously hoarse voices that those who are talking about tampering of EVMs are anti-nationals, rumour mongers and are spreading conspiracy theories. In fact, now they go beyond calling them ‘conspiracy theorists’; anyone who raises a doubt is branded as a conspirator.
There is a clear divide between those who say that EVMs are being tampered and those who oppose this position. Over a period of last ten years or so, after every election the dividing line has become more pronounced and sharp. The Election Commission and the BJP-RSS combine is on one side of the fence. All other parties are on the other side. The most ardent opposition to EVMs has come from Aam Aadmi Party, Congress, Left parties and even other regional parties are now hesitant opponents of EVM. However, these relatively secular parties are realising the dangers of a machine-driven election. If an agency controls one machine, then it controls the entire election process; technology makes the size of the electoral constituency and number of machines irrelevant.
I have said it elsewhere that all machines are designed to be controlled by human beings. If a machine cannot be manipulated, then it is of no use. The question is whether a machine lends itself to be manipulated illegally. In the last few decades, we have seen even highly secure and complex Nuclear Technology or Space Technology being illegally proliferated. I always wonder, what gives Election Commission or non-experts sitting and blabbering in TV studios the idea that an EVM cannot be tampered with. On the one hand, we are proud of our scientists that they can manipulate machines sent to Moon and Mars sitting on earth and on the other hand they insist confidently, without an iota of doubt, that EVMs cannot be and are not being manipulated.
India, even after 70 years of Independence, remains a highly divided and unequal society. But with one stroke, our Constitution established ‘equality of vote’ for every citizen. We should be proud of it. At the cost of repeating myself, let me emphasise that on the day of election, an obscure chaiwala’s vote value and that of an Ambani, Adani, PM, CM and even the President is the same, all of us are worth only one vote. This is not a mean gift by our forefathers; it should be protected, cherished and celebrated.
The right to vote is a right that inherently presumes that people have confidence that their vote is honestly cast and represented in the results. The responsibility of ensuring that the entire election process is fair, transparent and honest and that people must have no doubts about its fairness, lies with Election Commission of India. The confidence of people in the validity of every component of the election process is of utmost importance. The trust in vote and election process is directly linked to trust in democracy. If people lose confidence in the election process then they resort to other non-democratic means of expressing themselves, individually and collectively. We have seen that happening in other countries with unstable democracies.
When I came to Gujarat and started visiting various constituencies, one of the most important questions in my mind was whether people have started mistrusting the EVM? If yes, how widespread is it? In short, which side of the fence the majority of Indian citizens is on?
My personal experience is that majority of Indians, irrespective of caste, class, religion or economic status, have lost trust on the EVMs. They think that the machines are being tampered with. They think that their votes can be stolen by dishonest agencies and they often blame only one party for doing this. I do not want to name anyone but they think that one man has mastered the technique of stealing their votes. But then, why do they still vote in large numbers? The answer is a bit complex but the most important reason is that for the people of India, especially the poor, election is a festival and by casting their votes, they celebrate democracy even if it is faulty in their opinion. In my opinion, their patience is running out and that will pose the biggest danger to Indian democracy.