• EVMs: Indian Voters Cannot be Fooled by Conspiracy Theories

    If the Opposition wants to defeat Modi, it has issues like farm distress, unemployment and social unrest. There is no need to concoct theories built on fake news.

    Nikhil Wagle

    January 25, 2019

    Indira Gandhi had swept the general elections in 1971 with 352 seats. Immediately after the results, Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray had held a rally at Shivaji Park in Mumbai. “This victory doesn’t belong to the woman, or the cow. It belongs to the ink,” he thundered (in Marathi ‘Ha vijay baicha kinva gaicha nahi, tar shaicha ahe’). The translation sounds lame, but his exact words in Marathi rhymed, and the public responded with a resounding applause. It made headlines the next morning. The Opposition had found a way to deflect attention from their defeat. But Thackeray did not provide any proof or register any complaint with Election Commission. It was merely a tactic to pacify the party’s disgruntled cadres and voters.

    We might have come a long way from the ballot paper days, but the response of the Opposition hasn’t changed much. The target today is the EVMs (electronic voting machines). When EVMs were first used in 1983 in a constituency in Kerala, the Communist Party of India candidate had complained before the elections, and the Congress candidate complained after the elections. Twenty one years later, in 2004 and 2009, the Congress didn’t think there was anything wrong with the EVMs. But, 2014 onward, it suddenly began doubting its authenticity.

    The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has no moral ground either. Party spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao has written a book on how EVMs are unreliable. After BJP leader LK Advani raised his concerns after the verdict of the 2009 general elections, BJP’s home grown Sherlock Holmes, Kirit Somaiyya, started working on explaining how the EVMs were bogus. Another BJP leader, Subramanian Swamy, knocked the doors of the Supreme Court. The Aam Aadmi Party has also cried hoarse about EVMs. The party even conducted a demo in the Delhi Assembly explaining how EVMs could be hacked.

    None of the sceptics, however, have managed to prove that EVMs have been tampered to rig a particular election. The High Courts of Bombay, Kerala, Karnataka, Madras, Guwahati have dismissed the allegations, while the Supreme Court has also said that there was no point in going back to the era of the paper ballots. Yet, to reassure its voters, as per Supreme Court direction, the Election Commission of India (ECI) would be attaching VVPATs (voter verifiable paper audit trail) to 20% of EVMs in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

    But the sceptics don’t seem assured. On January 22, a ‘cyber expert’ Syed Shuja held a press conference in London through Skype to make sensational claims without substantiating anything with evidence. Citing security threats, he didn’t travel to London, and interacted with the media wearing a mask. He even identified himself with a few different names. His claims were so far-fetched that even the organisers – the Indian Journalists Association and Foreign Press Association – had to distance themselves from it. The organiser of the press conference, Ashish Ray, was also accused of being close to Congress party and, to make things worse for the party, senior leader Kibal Sibal was present there, adding to suspicion on whether there was any political motive behind the press meet.

    Shuja’s story is worse than a B-grade Bollywood thriller. He claimed the 2014 general elections were rigged, and that BJP leader Gopinath Munde and journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh were murdered to cover up for it. He even claimed that 11 of his associates were killed, while he managed to escape to America. To cover up for the 11 murders, he alleged that a riot outside Hyderabad had been engineered.

    India Today and Scroll did fact-checking and rubbished all of his claims within 48 hours. There are discrepancies in his account, which includes the details of where he worked. His technical analysis has also been debunked. His claim of a riot around Hyderabad is true. There are news reports, but they say three people were killed, not 11. If what he is saying is true, someone among the relatives, friends of those 11 would have come forward.

    A section of anti-Narendra Modi brigade had an orgasm after Shuja claimed that the 2014 elections were hacked. But they don’t realise that they are insulting the voters’ mandate by legitimising these wild allegations. Voters had been angry with the United Progressive Alliance-2 regime with stories of corruption cropping up every now and then, and Modi seized his chance.

    But we have a penchant for conspiracy theories. Senior journalist and Congress MP, Kumar Ketkar, recently claimed that Modi’s election was an international conspiracy. People ignored it because in 1974, he had said the same thing about the JP movement.

    If BJP hacked EVMs in 2014, why did it leave out West Bengal, Odisha, or majority of South India? If BJP holds the key to EVMs, how did it lose the by-polls in Uttar Pradeh and Rajasthan, or the three states in the Hindi belt, or Bihar, or Delhi? Shuja or those believing in those theories won’t ask these questions because they want to create a cloud of doubt against Modi. All we can say is that they are learning BJP’s tactic of spreading fake news.

    But this game is dangerous in the long run. Dangerous for our democracy. It creates suspicion among the people of India about the most important institution — the Election Commission (EC). Nobody is claiming that the EC is spotless. And some of their actions deserve to be questioned. But suggesting that the EC is in cahoots with BJP, as it hacks elections, without any evidence is another way of diluting the EC’s credibility, something that we have been criticising the BJP for. If the Opposition parties want to defeat Modi, it has issues like farm distress, unemployment and social unrest to amplify. It need not concoct theories. The Indian voter is not gullible enough to fall for this outright fake news.


    First published in Newsclick.

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