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EC's EVM challenge a damp squib: Dismal turnout by political parties

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: 3 June 2017, 23:09 IST

Saturday's EVM challenge by the Election Commission of India proved to be a damp squib, for none of the political parties came forward to accept it. Only two parties, the NCP and the CPM, registered for the challenge, but chose to be just observers.

According to ECI insiders, the CPM team had three IT experts, while the NCP team comprised of two IT experts and an MP.

AAP’s announcement of a parallel hackathon, however, will keep the conspiracy theorists satiated.

“From the side of the Election Commission of India, the EVM challenge closed today,” CEC Nasim Zaidi told Catch in a brief interaction. “However, we are always open for constructive suggestions both on the technical and academic aspects from both the political parties and individuals,” he said.

AAP, had called the Election Commission of India’s challenge a “farce” and refused to take part in it as they weren't being allowed to tamper with the machine.

According to ECI officials, this was against its rules and this had been communicated to AAP.

On its part, AAP announced that it would hold it’s own hackathon and have invited even officials of the ECI, the manufacturers of the EVMs besides hackers and other individuals.

However, the participation from the ECI is unlikely. “We have not recieved any communication from AAP on this so far,” Zaidi said.

Meanwhile, AAP is not the only party which had problems with the terms and conditions of the ECI’s challenge. Issues were raised by CPI, too, which wanted to join in as an observer.

ECI officials say, the rules and procedures in place regarding such a challenge did not allow that. “We couldn’t have let the CPI see what the CPM had to tell us,” as one senior official put it. “They were free to come and join the challenge,” the official says.

What happened at the EVM challenge?

While CPM was satisfied with the challenge, NCP had some issues. The party, which had alleged rigging in the recently concluded local bodies elections in Maharashtra, wanted the ECI to provide them the serial numbers of the memory units and the batteries of the EVMs involved in the challenge days in advance. A total of 14 randomly selected EVMs were brought in from different states.

The request was shot down by the ECI for according to officials, the EVM’s, 14 of them, which were brought in from the states, could not have been opened before the designated day of the challenge and in the absence of the political parties--that they were in a sealed condition.

Vandana Chavan, the NCP MP, is learnt to have been upset at the way the ECI did not provide the information in advance. However, CEC Zaidi is said to have intervened and told the NCP delegation that they could open the machines and see the details that they wished to, and that they should take part in the challenge. NCP was also told that the EVMs used in the local body elections were not supplied by the ECI for the State Election Commission is responsible for them.

EC counters AAP charges

ECI officials say that the AAP’s public demonstration of EVM rigging needs to be put in context. “It is basically ECI EVM machines backed by the Constitution safeguards and laws versus machines which have no such backing,” one official explains how there is no comparison between the EVMs of the ECI and the prototype used by AAP to demonstrate rigging.

Pushed into a corner over the credibility of the EVMs, the ECI had announced the EVM challenge on May 20, 2017, asking all the political parties who were part of the recently concluded elections in the five states to take part. However, only two parties registered for the challenge till May 26, the deadline set by the ECI. AAP had refrained saying the ECI had set harsh conditions. Manish Sisodia even went to the extent of saying that the ECI should open the challenge to the engineers and the technocrats of the country.

ECI officials maintain that they had just asked the parties to play by the rules it had set. “The ECI framework and rules concerning the EVMs do not allow them to be taken outside the safe custody of the ECI,” says an official. “They had said that it could be rigged by a mere push of a series of buttons. They could have come and demonstrated that on the EVM which are in the technical and the administrative custody of the ECI,” the official says. “They could have nominated IT experts the way CPM and NCP did today,” an ECI official says explaining that the impression created that no experts were allowed to take part in the challenge is wrong.

The ECI says it is impossible to tamper with the EVMs with the strict technical and administrative safeguards in place.

The ECI has maintained that demands that they be allowed to change the motherboard of the machines is outlandish for once it is replaced they seize to be ECI machines.

First published: 3 June 2017, 23:08 IST