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RS debate on poll reforms raises doubts on EVMs

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday had a lively debate on electoral reforms, with the Opposition raising doubts about the reliability of electronic voting machines (EVMs), and demanding several legal changes, including state funding of elections to ensure a fair democractic process.

The Elders in the House complained the electoral process was already vitiated by the use of muscle and money power, and unnecessary restrictions had taken out colour from the whole exercise. They said nowhere in the Western world were EVMs used for casting votes, and there were doubts that these could be hacked to manipulate results.

Their use in India, without the attached paper trail machines, made the losing political parties feel they were defeated by the “machine” and not by their rivals, the members said.

Intervening in the debate, Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar presented data of the 2014 Lok Sabha and the recent Assembly election results to show the parties’ poll percentage had maintained a trend and they had lost only when their voting percentage came down.

Several members quoted from “Democracy at Peril”, a book written by none other than a BJP spokesman, giving details of how the EVMs could be manipulated to give certain results.

Initiating the short duration debate, Mukul Roy of the Trinamool Congress said the Election Commission should address the complaints on the possible manipulation of EVMs. He said his party stood for State funding of elections. Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said the BJP had maximum resources, including helicopters and private planes at its disposal during the recent UP poll. He said the issue of EVMs was raised in several states, including in Assam by Tarun Gogoi and in UP by Mayawati.

The Chief Election Commissioner, he said, had written 13 letters to the government for the use of paper trail machines with the EVMs, as this could give proof to the voters where their votes had gone. Bhupender Yadav of the BJP stressed the need for holding simultaneous polls for Lok Sabha, Assembly and Panchayats in the future. He said it will not only save money but will also make it possible for the parties and candidates winning elections to concentrate on governance. He said elections should not be considered as an end but a means to good governance.

JD (U) leader Sharad Yadav supported BSP supremo Mayawati's demand to probe EVMs used in the recent UP assembly polls, saying it would not be good for democracy if this issue is not addressed. He said the media coverage was also manipulated by the ruling party, preventing the fourth pillar of democracy from discharging its duty effectively.

He said, "There is a question mark on EVMs today. Mayawatiji has claimed that EVMs were responsible for her defeat… We must set up an inquiry committee on this." The JD (U) leader said a four-time chief minister has raised this issue and it needs to be addressed seriously.

Stating that contesting elections has become an expensive affair, he said so much expenditure is incurred that in future "people like (Ram Manohar) Lohia and Atal Bihari Vajpayee would not come to Parliament".

Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) and D Raja (CPI) demanded proportional voting system so that a truly representative government enjoying support of the majority could emerge. Yechury said corporate funding of political parties should be stopped and State funding of polls as recommended by the Indrajit Gupta committee must be adopted. S C Misra of the BSP demanded scrapping of the Tenth Schedule as the disqualification law on defection of members had become defunct.