For someone who boasts of being a front-runner in promoting adoption of modern technology in governance, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu’s strident opposition to electronic voting machines (EVMs) sounds puerile and hypocritical. The tone and tenor of his outbursts, from the moment the polling for simultaneous elections to the State Assembly and Lok Sabha got over, reflect a sense of frustration typical of someone facing an imminent defeat. Invoking conspiracy theories to raise doubts over the efficacy of the EVMs amounts to cheap politics. One wonders whether the Telugu Desam Party supremo is prepared to apply the same logic for the 2014 Assembly elections, which his party had won, and attribute it to the EVM tampering. His exaggerated and illogical claim that nearly 35% of EVMs in the State had malfunctioned was received with a sense of disbelief even within his own party. The Election Commission has rightly refuted the charge while admitting that there were some initial glitches, which were subsequently rectified and the faulty machines were replaced. It is true that some voting machines malfunction on the polling day due to a variety of technical reasons but they cannot be manipulated. It would be outrageous to claim that the entire poll machinery conspires to manipulate the outcome in favour of a particular party. Naidu’s virulent attack must be seen against the backdrop of his government’s recent confrontation with the poll panel over the transfer of the State Chief Secretary and three senior police officials ahead of the polling. To claim that the EC has lost public faith and credibility because of malfunctioning of EVMs in some places is to stretch the matter too far.
It is time political parties realised the dangers of dragging the neutral institutions and time-tested electoral processes into partisan politics and trash the voting machines, disregarding their proven track record since their introduction over three-and-a-half decades ago. By mobilising other opposition parties to declare a war on voting machines and demand reverting to the paper ballot system, the TDP chief is pursuing regressive politics. The country cannot afford to go back to an era where booth capturing, wholesale tampering of ballot papers and theft of ballot boxes were the order of the day. The indigenous EVMs, the standalone, non-networked machines that run on a single programmed microchip, have proved to be quite ahead of the curve when compared with the machines being used in other parts of the world. The use of EVMs has been one of the stellar success stories of India’s mature democracy and an independent Election Commission. Nothing should be done to tarnish this image.