NEW DELHI: The electronic voting machines (EVMs) are the "wonder machines" of the Indian democracy and those who question it are peddling conspiracies to sow seeds of doubt and undermining democracy, said former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) S.Y. Quraishi.
On the challenges facing the Election Commission in conducting the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, he said the "role of money power" is the biggest challenge to free and fair elections in India.
Rebuffing the claims of EVM tampering, he said political parties play the role of accuser and the accused, depending upon whether they won or lost the last election. "Have you ever heard a winning party questioning the EVMs," he remarked in an interview with IANS.
Quraishi, who joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1971 and went on to become the 17th CEC of India, said the Election Commission has repeatedly challenged the conspiracy theorists to try their hand on the EVM.
"No party has accepted these hackathon challenges. Instead, they peddle conspiracies to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of voters, thus undermining democracy," said the 71-year-old Quraishi. The former CEC has just published a book named "The Great March of Democracy: Seven Decades of India`s Elections".
Maintaining that the EVMs have "obvious benefits over the antiquated ballot paper system", Quraishi said no allegations of hacking have ever been proven, and politically motivated claims have become "a laughing stock".
"The Supreme Court in 2013 lauded the poll panel`s initiative to introduce VVPATs to remove doubts from the minds of voters. It also asked the Centre to provide adequate funds for it. Since 2015, there have been a number of state elections. Voter slips from 1,500 machines have been tallied since then, and not a single mismatch has been detected," he said.
The Voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) or verifiable paper record (VPR) is a method of providing feedback to voters using a ballotless voting system.
He, however, acknowledged the EVMs and the VVPATs have malfunctioned in some instances.
"But there is a difference between a malfunctioning machine and rigging of elections. These two issues are being used inter-changeably and casually. This is fatal to the legitimacy of the democracy. The parties should realise that they shall also win some day with the same machines, which they have sought to discredit. It is self sabotage of sorts," the former CEC asserted.
The solution is "keeping enough reserves of machines and counting more than one machine per constituency to remove every doubt in the minds of parties," he said.
Quraishi introduced a number of electoral reforms like creation of a voter education division, expenditure monitoring division and launched the National Voters Day during his stint as the CEC between 2010 and 2012.
He said there were many proposals from various stakeholders regarding the sample size of the number of machines to be counted. He advised the poll panel to get the advice of Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, to get the most scientific sample size to count.
Quraishi praises the poll panel in his book, published by Penguin, for delivering 16 elections to the Lok Sabha and over 400 elections to state assemblies, thus facilitating peaceful and orderly transfer of power.