The least that the people in a democracy deserve is a credible electoral mechanism. Without passing any judgment on the raging controversy over electronic voting machines (EVMs), it would be unfair to conclude that the Indian voter has been provided a mechanism in which he/she can have unimpeachable faith ~ and remember that the EVMs come at the fag end of a system already “compromised” in so many other ways. Since the Election Commission has been powerless to curb the use of divisive, polarising forces that facilitate voter-mobilisation on grounds of religion, caste, community, money and muscle power and what have you, it would be naïve for Nirvachan Sadan to think that “forceful” rejection of allegations against the EVMs will suffice to convince the voter. On the contrary, the “muscular approach” will be seen as being in keeping with the mindset of a government that refuses to entertain any criticism, and thus fuel the “no smoke without fire” suspicions among some sections of society. A trace of arrogance would be perceived in the Commission’s asking the police to probe the latest negatives highlighted at a press conference in London by a somewhat dubious self-styled “expert” who claimed that the EVMs had been hacked to rig the last parliamentary poll. That the BJP leadership came out vociferously in support of the Commission tends to support the suspicions that already abounded. More credible than such fulminations was the categorical position taken by the head of Bharat Electronics, and three professors from reputed technical institutes.

True that in the past the Commission has invited critics to prove their charges against EVMs, but there was always a challenging, confrontationist tenor to its “invitations”. The Commission is disinclined to accept the theory that justice must also “be seen” to have been done. It would raise Nirvacahan Sadan’s stock in public perception if it dismounted its high horse and invited technical experts ~ including those suggested by Opposition parties ~ to evaluate/certify the EVMs. Or will we have to await a judicial directive to that effect? The Commission’s allowing the government to do the fire-fighting corrodes its own credibility. The Commission is honour-bound to convince the voter that it is capable of rising above pique. Having said that it is also necessary for Opposition leaders to rise to the occasion and not bracket the Commission/ EVMs with the Modi-government. To merely demand a return to manually counted ballots would be turning the clock backwards. It is a sign of sick times that a progressive move ~ even if not emulated the world over ~ should be dragged into the political quagmire. Alas, these are sick times: neither the ruling entity nor the Opposition think beyond so-called victory and it is tragic that the Commission displays scant sensitivity to the larger interests of the voter. Thereby undermining the “basic”, that in a democracy the common man is the King.