Twenty-two Opposition parties met the Election Commission (EC) on Tuesday demanding that tallying of the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips in five polling booths in each Assembly segment with the electronic voting machines (EVMs) be done prior to the counting of votes.
If any discrepancy is found anywhere in the VVPAT verification, hundred per cent counting of paper slips of VVPATs of all polling stations of that Assembly segment should be done, the parties demanded. The EC, however, remained non-committal and told them that there would be a special meeting of the full Commission on Wednesday to examine the issue.
The Opposition parties together and individually have met the EC 94 times in the last few months with the same request. The EC also refused the demand for 100% tallying of VVPAT slips.
The meeting saw a sharp exchange between the Opposition parties and the EC.
Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora cited the Supreme Court’s ruling on Tuesday, dismissing a petition by a Chennai-based group for matching of all VVPAT slips with EVMs, where it had called the plea a “nuisance”.
According to sources, Mr. Arora said the Supreme Court itself had said a discussion on the issue was a waste of time.
In a sharp response, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party president Chandrababu Naidu said the people’s representatives could not be compared to an unknown organisation.
A senior Opposition leader present at the meeting said, “The usually calm and polite Mr. Naidu told the poll body in no uncertain terms that the parties are not here to waste the EC’s time. Instead it is their mandate to seek clarifications if any doubt arises on the electoral processes.”
At this point, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury reminded the poll body of the Supreme Court’s judgement of May 7, which while dismissing the Opposition’s demand for 100% tallying of VVPAT and EVMs, did not speak about procedures to follow in case of discrepancies.
“He [Mr. Yechury] told the EC that the parties had repeatedly asked the EC to come up with guidelines informing all stakeholders on what it would do in case of a mismatch, but even now, two days before the results are to be declared, the guidelines have not been issued,” an Opposition leader from a regional party said.
The EC also refused the demand for 100% tallying of VVPAT slips. Mr. Arora, according to sources, said in case of a disease, only a small blood sample needed to be taken. Snapping at him, the Opposition parties said in case the sample was found to infected, the entire body needed to be scanned.
The discussion was started by leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and Congress MP Ghulam Nabi Azad who said the people in the room represented 70% of the electorate and should not be treated lightly. Congress’s Abhishek Manu Singhvi then explained the Supreme Court judgement on the issue and reminded the EC that it had still not followed the court ruling in spirit.
Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’ Brien flagged Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s statement that Central forces would remain deployed till May 27 in West Bengal. He asked whether she was speaking as Defence Minister or on behalf of the Election Commission. The BJP, he said, had implemented an undeclared emergency in the State.
Security at strong rooms
The Bahujan Samaj Party’s Satish Chandra Mishra spoke about various instances of EVMs being ferried without security in Chandauli and other parts of Uttar Pradesh.
The Telugu Desam Party shared information of a sting operation on the General Manager of ECIL (one of the manufacturers of EVMs) who spoke of tampering of EVMs. The General Manager alleged in the video that duplicate EVMs could be used any time needed.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mr. Singhvi said that in the last month and a half, these issues had been repeatedly taken up with the EC and the parties again asked on Tuesday on why the Commission had not responded to these demands. Why should the VVPATs be decorative and not be put to use, he asked.
Mr. Naidu said former CECs and former President Pranab Mukerjee had endorsed the Opposition’s view. “If a blood sample is found contaminated, the whole body must be scanned. Similarly, we are only asking that if there is mismatch during tallying of VVPAT slips and EVMs in five polling stations then entire Assembly segment should be counter checked. What is wrong with our demand?” he said.
CPI leader D Raja said, “The fundamental question is how to restore the confidence of voters in EVMs and the electoral process. The EC can’t shut its eyes and mind to the issue.”