NEW DELHI: Aam Aadmi Party legislator Surabh Bharadwaj has disturbed a hornet’s nest at a politically opportune time. Just days before the Election Commission is, once again, preparing to engage with the leaders of major political parties on the EVM controversy, Bharadwaj demonstrated the “ease” with which the voting machine can be tampered with in just 90 seconds.

Demonstrating it before a full house was a well thought out political masterstroke, ensuring that the issue got the media attention and could not be easily dismissed. Bharadwaj maintained that:

1. The motherboard of the EVM machine can be changed thereby allowing the use of simple codes to make specific candidates win;

2. On entering the prepared code a person can completely alter the outcome of votes on that particular machine as he demonstrated very clearly;

3. Even EVMs that have been tampered with can show some correct votes cast;

4. It is also possible to set an EVM so that even when it has been tampered with on the voting day, it can clear the checks on the counting day;

5. And all this can be done in just 90 seconds.

Media will be abuzz for some time and will endlessly debate the fallibility of EVMs. In days to come, the diehards insisting that EVMs are foolproof will accuse Bharadwaj, despite his patient and sober demonstration, of bei ‘foolproof EVM’ will accuse Bharadwaj of being a ‘dramebaz’ and ‘anti-national’ (the campaign has already started on Facebook). And those who think that in the 21st century a electronic machine based on microprocessor and software cannot be tamperproof, will stand by him regardless.

The Election Commission, in its first reaction has very predictably, told reporters that the EVM machine used by Bharadwaj in the Delhi Assembly is not the same as those used by the EC during the elections. The EC will maintain, even if has not done so already, that the machine has a different motherboard.

Even a lay person can understand that tampering means changing the software or hardware or both, after which, technically speaking, the machine will not remain the same. The question is can it be tampered with ease and without detection.

Bhardwaj claims that the machine needs a change of motherboard, which can be done in 90 seconds. It has been established with this demonstration that by changing the motherboard or display board or by mounting a chip in the control unit EVM can be made to give fictitious results.

Now let us ask : are there vulnerable points in the administrative security where the machines might be exposed to criminal intervention for a short duration. Election Commission’s answer up till now has been that there are no vulnerable moments in the entire process. It is completely transparent and secured. The question that what happened in those places from where serious problems have been reported, remains unanswered.

Bharadwaj, in the end says that there is no machine in the world that cannot be tampered with. It is a scientific fact that all machines which humans have designed and constructed are made to interact with human beings. When we caste our vote we interact with the EVM, when we count the votes we interact with it, and when we reset we interact with it, without which a machine is of no use.

Tampering is a word used when some one interacts with the machine illegally. However, theoretically and practically all machines are vulnerable to illegal interactions as well.

Let us remember that those who point out that ‘a machine can be tampered with’, are not responsible for its vulnerability. When we create a high security zone, for example around the President or Prime Minister’s residence, we also create cells that are given a mandate to break the security rings. This is done to pre-empt criminals from invading the secured areas. It is the best way to ensure that your own agencies identify vulnerabilities of a security feature before criminals can do so.

When the entire democracy is at risk have we created any cells with a mandate to tamper with the EVMs without detection? At least I am not aware of any such attempt. Instead, those who point that there can be an issue with the machine’s security are treated as enemies.

Besides, political leaders, there are also substantial number of well informed scientists and technologists who believe that even those machines which are stand alone, not networked and hardwired, as an Indian EVM is, can be tampered with. These are well-intentioned people, they want to save and strengthen democracy. They cannot be treated as criminals or enemies. If this attitude is not changed we will progressively weaken the Indian democracy, and people will lose trust in their vote. A change of attitude is required.

(Gauhar Raza, a scientist, has written several articles to insist that from the very beginning that EVMs can be easily tampered with)