As the world’s largest democracy, India’s political theatre has had some towering personalities. Many names come to mind – Nehru, Patel, Modi… and EVM. Since the turn of the millennium, the EVM has been a key figure for three Lok Sabha elections and countless local polls – a record of longevity politicians can only dream of. But as the Lok Sabha elections of 2019 commence in Andhra Pradesh, reports are emerging of EVMs malfunctioning at certain polling stations. Authorities have offered reassurances that voting will proceed unhindered, but this confusion is typical of the EVM’s role in Indian politics. Last month, 21 Opposition parties moved the Supreme Court seeking tighter security over the EVMs.
The idea that India’s EVMs are vulnerable to foul play has been doing the rounds for a while. Syed Suja, an Indian cyber expert seeking asylum in the US repeated sensational claims about the 2014 elections being rigged this January. As India prepares for the world’s largest democratic election, this a perfect time to take a closer look at the real MVP, or most valuable player of Indian politics.
First, let’s get to what the nation wants to know. Is the EVM corruptible? As Indians, we’re so jaded by MPs with FIRs that we doubt anything remotely connected to politics, even simple, sole-function machines. Ever since EVMs were introduced, the word “tampering” entered the common man’s lexicon. One such common man, Arvind Kejriwal, even turned his fears over tampering into full-on performance art, staging a demonstration of EVM-tampering in the Parliament (in the convenient absence of the Election Commission’s representatives). There are legitimate concerns about the EVMs malfunctioning: Even the Congress had raised issues over the Gujarat election, claiming that the EVMs used were liable to be tampered by hackers via Bluetooth and WiFi connections.
Despite all the uproar, there is little by way of tangible proof that EVMs are vulnerable to tampering. The suspicion around the EVM is surprising, considering it was originally designed at the Industrial Design Centre at IIT Bombay, and Indians are notoriously obsessed with acquiring an IIT chhappa. Beyond that, there are many safeguards to prevent the Big T, including double-randomisation when assigning EVMs to polling booths and a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT). As for the worries over hacking, the EVMs used in Indian elections aren’t designed to connect to the internet or any other network, making claims of hacking over WiFi as bogus as Vijay Mallya’s tax returns.
The EVM attracts more attention than the latest iPhone as the hottest piece of tech
In India, then, the EVM attracts more attention than the latest iPhone as the hottest piece of tech. It therefore deserves recognition as Indian politics’ MVP. Studies have shown that worldwide, introduction of electronic voting has led to an improvement in living standards for poor, which is a promise many politicians make, but rarely deliver on. It even put Modi’s marathon campaign trail of 2014 to shame, making appearances at over 930,000 polling stations across the country. Beat that, Mr Prime Minister. In honour of its many achievements, let’s all cut the EVM some slack. It might just be the unsung hero of Indian politics.