Sam Pitroda: People of India don’t have confidence in EVMs

Ritu Jha-

Sam Pitroda, the chairman Indian Overseas Congress, is concerned whether the forthcoming general elections of India will be conducted in a free and fair manner. Urging people to stand up for democracy and speak out against the authoritative rule of the BJP Pitroda, during an interview with indica, raised questions on several aspects of governance in India – right from the vulnerability of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) to democratic processes and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s 6700 KM march.

While talking about Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra march, Pitroda explained the rationale and the necessity for holding a cross-country trek after the Bharat Jodo Yatra held the past year.

“There are several reasons behind this yatra. First, it was the demand of the Congress workers and the public that the east-west regions of India were not covered during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. The demand came from the grassroots. Second is that the first yatra was about the unity of India, we wanted to highlight justice too. India is in a situation where everybody needs justice, whether it is OBC, Dalit, minority, women, farmers, and youth with their jobs. There’s so much injustice going on. The way media and institutions are being controlled and the civil society is undermined, India needs justice now and the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra is focused on this urgent necessity.”

But then there is the issue of earning the trust of the electorate before the 2024 elections are held. Generating public trust is the biggest challenge for Congress right now, feels Pitroda. “We hope that the people of India realize at some point before and during the 2024 parliamentary election that this is going to be the most important election in the recent history of India. We are at a crossroads we will have to decide what kind of a nation we want to build. Whether we want to build an authoritarian Hindu country or we want a nation that is more democratic, decentralized, and more secular. If you support a dictatorial approach, the way things are running today, there will not be much public welfare accomplished, nor any jobs created. Only a few people will become very rich,” he said.

Pitroda said that people in India are afraid to speak out against the authoritarian regime. “I talk to a lot of people who initially say that they support us and then refuse to speak out even in something as innocuous as a press conference. They said that they and their families are afraid of being harassed. A lot of people are afraid. But if this type of fearful India is not something you want, then the people will have to speak up.”

“Justice has been captured, central agencies like the Enforcement Directorate of India have been captured. All agencies are only going after opposition parties. Have you ever heard of any agency going after any BJP guy? Do you think they are all that honest? If they’re that honest, where do you get all this money to bribe everybody? So, the country’s government is acting in an authoritarian style which is not democracy. I just finished writing a book, Idea of Democracy, it’s being published by Penguin and is going to be released in February. The basic idea of democracy is openness, transparency, accessibility, truth, and trust. The present government of India has lost all of that. Lies of the government are being promoted by everybody out of fear. Whatever the government or the Prime Minister say is fine, that is being treated as the ultimate,” Pitroda added.

“Democracies are always work in progress and the people have to keep it alive. But what if a university’s vice chancellor is from the RSS who has never run an education institution. This VC changes the board and tells you to take the theory of evolution or the periodic table out of the syllabus, the scientific community should protest. But they are not resisting, they remain silent spectators.”

“It is up to the people of India, ultimately, they will have to decide what is the way forward. It is a fact that in the 2019 general elections only a little more than 37% of the electorate voted for BJP, the remaining 63% did not. But even then, this minority section of voters is hijacking the democracy because the remaining 63% of secular votes get fragmented into multiple parties and the winner takes it all. So, 37% of the vote bank decides the future of a nation to which 63% don’t agree. That brings us to a global fundamental issue – the kind of democracy we have created. We now need participative democracy and not elective democracy,” Pitroda added.

He is also concerned that the voting process may not be safe from malpractices and suspects that the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) in India may be susceptible to hacking or tampering. “I am very concerned about the EVMs used in India’s elections. People have started a movement against this. Some lawyers also have picked it up, and people say that there is a trust deficit in the EVMs. The electorate of India wants EVM receipts after casting votes. That’s all we are asking for. The receipts will then be put in a box that is not connected to electronics like the EVMs,” Pitroda told indica.

“The Election Commission of India will have to respond to this demand of voters in the country. It’s their votes and has nothing to do with any political party. We all just want to ensure that what I am casting is what you are counting. Today people are not sure whether you are counting the votes that are being cast. People don’t have that confidence in the counting process of EVMs now. Many lawyers have picked it up and demonstrations are going on in India and it has become now a public issue,” he said.

Pitroda’s suspicions about the EVMs are echoed by an online petition initiated on that has called for improvements in the election process of India and urged the Election Commission of India (ECI) to conduct free and fair elections. Close to 9,000 signatories to the petition have asked the ECI to ensure the integrity of voting and counting, oppose electoral bonds, and rein in money power integrity of electoral rolls.

The petition titled ‘Constitutional Mandate to conduct Free and Fair Election — Memorandum to Election Commission’ was initiated by Devasahayam MG of Chennai, India, on August 24, 2023. The signatories include activists, academics, lawyers, and former IAS, IPS, IFS, IRS, and IA&AS officers. It has already garnered 8,943 signatures.

“Modern India’s greatest pride is that it is the world’s largest and a vibrant democracy. Over the last few years, however, there have been serious concerns regarding the country’s electoral process due to a lack of public trust in EVMs and Voter-Verifiable Paper Trail (VVPAT) voting, reports of arbitrary deletions in Electoral Rolls, and increased secrecy in political party funding. EVM/VVPAT voting does not comply with the essential ‘Democracy Principles’ – that each voter should be able to verify that her vote is cast-as-intended, recorded-as-cast, and counted-as-recorded. Though the ECI has arranged for all EVMs to be accompanied by VVPAT devices, the “Voter-Verifiable Paper Trail” has been reduced to a tiny ‘paper slip’ for seven seconds which then vanishes and is not counted,” the petition states.

The Citizens’ Commission on Elections, headed by a former Judge of the Supreme Court of India, Justice (retd) Madan B. Lokur, consulted top national and international experts on the issue of EVM/VVPAT voting and concluded that it does not provide provable guarantees against hacking, tampering, and spurious voting. The VVPAT system does not allow the voter to verify the slip before the vote is cast.

“There have been several reports of arbitrary deletions and missing names in the Electoral Rolls of voters belonging to minority communities and disadvantaged groups. This calls into question the integrity of the Electoral Rolls based on which elections are conducted. Electoral funding in the country compromises the integrity of democracy in multiple ways. The introduction of electoral bonds, which allow donors to anonymously donate unlimited amounts of funds to political parties, militate against the basic principle of transparency and lend themselves to misuse by special interest groups, corporate lobbyists, and foreign entities to acquire a stranglehold on the electoral process and governance at the expense of citizens,” the petition adds.

The petitioners have demanded that the ECI should ensure the integrity of voting and vote counting. “The VVPAT system should be re-calibrated to be fully voter-verifiable. A voter should be able to get the VVPAT slip in her hand and cast it in a chip-free ballot box for the vote to be valid. These VVPAT slips should be fully counted first for all constituencies before the results are declared. For this purpose, VVPAT slips should be larger and must be printed in such a manner that they can be preserved for a minimum of five years. Results of the counting of VVPAT slips should be cross-verified with the electronic tallies of the EVMs for every constituency before the results are declared. In case of any mismatch, the counting of the VVPAT slips should be treated as the final result. Forms 17A (Register of electors) and Forms 17C (Account of votes recorded) must be tallied and be publicly disclosed at the end of polling on the polling day itself. Forms 17A and 17C should also be tallied with the manual count of VVPAT slips before the declaration of results.”

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