Friday, August 27, 2010

Let’s not undermine electoral process, Dr. JP Appeals to political parties

Lok Satta Party President Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan today appealed to all political parties not to undermine the electoral process and demolish the credibility of the Election Commission of India by kicking up a controversy over electronic voting machines (EVMs).

Addressing the media, Dr. JP pointed out that the Election Commission is one of the few institutions which enjoy credibility. It has earned reputation by conducting free and fair elections by and large.

Referring to certain politicians’ contention that EVMs could be tampered with and poll outcomes rigged, Dr. JP said it was nobody’s case that any man-made machine is not vulnerable to tampering. After all an EVM is like any other machine which can be manipulated and fixed. The Election Commission has instituted fool-proof safeguards at various levels to protect the sanctity of elections and prevent any possibility of EVMs being tampered with. The important question, therefore, is whether EVMs are being tampered with during elections in real life situations..

He recalled that the Election Commission of India had offered to place EVMs at the disposal of Doubting Thomases for a month and challenged them to prove that they could be tampered with in the conditions in which elections are actually held. But none has chosen to accept the challenge so far.

Dr. JP pointed out that EVMs are subject to scrutiny at three stages – by officials before they are installed, by contesting candidates before elections and by their representatives on the day of polling.

Dr. JP recalled that the AIADMK led by Ms. Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu and the Congress led by Mr. Amarinder Singh in Punjab had both sought Supreme Court intervention to stall the use of EVMs. In the elections that followed the Supreme Court’s dismissal of their petitions, both the parties swept the elections and formed Governments. In the latest instance, the TRS won the by-elections to the Andhra Pradesh Assembly which witnessed use of both EVMs and printed ballot papers in different constituencies.

Dr. JP charged that certain political parties are trying to explain away their failure to win the hearts and minds of voters with their policies and programs by blaming it on EVMs.

He appealed to the Maharashtra Government to release Mr. Hari Prasad of Hyderabad, who was arrested in connection with a missing electronic voting machine (EVM), and drop the case registered against him.

Dr. JP likened Mr. Hari Praasad, a technical coordinator for an NGO, Citizens for Verification, Transparency and Accountability in Elections, to a whistle-blower who wanted to improve the electoral system. He might have taken some ill-advised steps in the process but he harbored no ill-will against the Election Commission.

Victimizing Mr. Hari Prasad by the Maharashtra Government for his whistle-blower activity would be akin to arresting a reporter who offers a bribe to a politician or official as part of a sting operation.

Dr. JP said that the Election Commission officials lodged a first information report with the Maharashtra police about a missing EVM as early as in May 2010 and left the matter at that. The Maharashtra police arrested Mr. Hari Prasad at his residence in Hyderabad as a follow-up to the complaint. In this whole episode, the Election Commission acted with commendable restraint, dignity and probity.

Dr. JP announced that the Lok Satta Party would extend legal aid to Mr. Hari Prasad. He said that the Foundation for Democratic Reforms will take the initiative to organize a national workshop by involving all the stakeholders including Election Commission officials and experts in electronics to dispel misgivings over EVMs once and for all.

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