NEW DELHI: I was shocked when after the Delhi Municipality Elections a young acquaintance, who runs a car repair shop, said, “ I did not go to vote, what is the point, if I cast my vote it goes to some other party.”

The statement was shocking for many reasons. But he was a Muslim and in today’s India views, opinion, feelings, anger or even fear of getting killed expressed by a Muslim citizen is not worth taking notice of. Communal poison that has been injected into social veins is extremely intoxicating. It excites goons to attack Muslims with impunity.

Small incentives, such as getting cheap publicity are enough to kill a Muslim, record it and circulate it on social media. On the other hand it gives hallucinogenic courage to political leaders, who owe allegiance to the RSS, that they can shamelessly and publicly declare—‘we don’t want Muslims to vote for us’ or ‘we don’t require Dalit votes to win’, as if Muslim and Dalit votes will make their victory unholy (apavitra).

All such remarks are uncivilised and more importantly an attack on the democratic fabric of India which is being torn bit by bit. A section of society is being pushed out of the democratic process.

Working for ‘Lokshahi Bachao Abhiyan’, during past three months, I travelled through the length and breadth of Gujarat, and met almost all sections of society. I was quite keen on collecting information, from confirmed and unconfirmed sources, about the tampering of EVMs and the loss of trust among people, especially other than the minorities. The RSS and its tentacle-organisations would have us believe that only NGOs, Muslims, Christians and losers in elections are against EVMs.

Besides the blatant communal angle introduced into the discourse, the confusion deliberately spread through social media messages and articles are focused around fear of memories of ‘booth capturing’ and ‘errors and delay in counting votes’.

Let us deal with these two issues first. No doubt era of ‘booth capturing’ is gone and we don’t hear news of it any more during the elections. Though the end of the booth capturing and introduction of EVMs is almost coterminous, still a deeper scrutiny tells us that there are other factors, which have contributed to the end of illegal and violent electoral practices.

The most important is the refusal of Dalits, Adivasis and weaker sections to accept the muscle power of the upper castes. Over the years even caste based political parties have realised that the upper-caste and middle-class are reluctant voters, it is the poor, Dalits, Adivasis, poor workers and minorities who vote in large numbers. Over decades, political parties have started ensuring that these sections get their ID proof and voter’s cards, and while mobilising them on the day of the polling provide them protection.

Increased deployment of security forces, phased polling and introduction of election observers is the third important factor in the reduction of visible malpractices.The Election Commission of India, legitimately, deserves all the credit for the efficacy of the last factor. However, it has created a wrong myth that EVMs are responsible for the demise of ‘booth capturing’.

Errors and delay in counting votes is a laughable argument. The number of faulty machines and process of weeding them out is always a painful exercise even for the ECI. The number of machines, which are found faulty during the first level checking, and then those machines which evade the first-check-net and are replaced on the day of the elections indicate the technical weakness of EVMs. It is precisely because of this problem that the ECI had to unwillingly introduce VVPAT.

Back to the ballot will cause ‘delay in counting and declaration of results’ is an even more ridiculous argument. The average delay in declaration of results due to ‘code of conduct and phased polling’ runs into at least a fortnight if not a month. Election results of Himachal Pradesh have had to wait for one month and nine days. Polling in Himachal took place on November 9 and the results will be declared on December 18, 2017. If we add four days of difference between the second phase of Gujarat elections and declaration of results to the 40 days delay in the Himachal Pradesh elections and the declaration of results, the average delay would work out to be 22 days. If we ‘go back to the ballot’ can’t we wait for counting to finish in a province for two or three days or even for a week?

I do not want to comment on the ridiculousness of VVPAT here. It requires a dedicated article. Instead, let me go back to my experience of a visit to Gujarat during the recent elections. The teams of ‘Lokshahi Bachao Abhiyan’ during the three months campaign covered more than fifty constituencies.

I was part of the team that went to Saurashtra and the Kutch area. I also visited some districts of Northern Gujarat. In the last phase over 12 days we travelled 2500 kilometres and met a large number of people and held street meetings on ‘safeguarding the Constitution’ in cities, towns, and interior villages. Without fail and without consideration of caste, religion or economic status after the meeting people posed the question, “Can you do something about the Machines (EVMs)?” Majority of those whom we met had lost trust in the EVMs. We were taken aback when a visibly poor old Adivasi woman after one such meeting in a remote village expressed her anger against ‘notebandi’ and said that she has lost her power to express her anger through her vote because of the EVM.

I hope political parties, instead of getting influenced by RSS propaganda, will listen to poor ordinary citizens of India, and demand ‘back to ballot’ or refuse to contest elections if EVMs are not removed. Win or lose in Gujarat, the Congress should pressurise ECI to go back to the ballot.

I have consistently argued that ‘all machines invented by human beings can be tampered, because they are designed for tampering’. But even if you discount all the technical arguments, loss of trust among people is a sufficient reason to abandon EVMs.

RSS and its affiliate organisations including BJP have mastered the art of selective amnesia. It has conveniently forgotten that GVL Narasimha Rao, the present national spokesperson of BJP, published the first book on faulty Indian EVMs, in 2010. No other than LK Advani wrote its foreword and it is still available in PDF format on his website.

The other book ‘Electronic Voting Machines: Unconstitutional and Tamperable’, was also published in 2010. It is not difficult to guess who wrote it, Subramanian Swamy. The book is still available on Amazon for Rs. 325.

In 2012, Hari Prasad, an engineer, wrote a paper with scientists working at Michigan University, which showed in details how an Indian EVM can be tampered. Four months later he was arrested for stealing an EVM from a Mumbai Collector’s office. The RSS was quite vocal on the issue and wanted EVMs to be abandoned till 2012 but since then it is silent.

The question is are these events and this selective amnesia linked? Has someone mastered the art of tampering EVMs? Is that the reason for the change in position, from the ardent opposition to the EVM to staunch defense of the EVMs?

I am not worried about what opinion RSS and ‘bhakts’ hold, we have seen them changing colors quite often, but mistrust among the people in what now constitutes the electoral process worries me a lot.

Universal Suffrage is the only weapon that the citizens of the country have. They have repeatedly, used it with responsibility to teach lessons to political masters. If they lose confidence in the power of their vote, it will be the end of Democracy.

Will political parties and the Election Commission of India act now, or wait for the people to take to the streets in protest?