he Election Commission of India (ECI) got something very wrong this general election. It stretched the process through a very long period and scripted the progress in an unexpected manner. It has made the democratic process a comedy of errors and lacunae are emerging for the opposition to pick on by dime a dozen. The latest chapter added to the ECI’s tale of woe is its bungling of the transportation of Electronic Voting Machines to strongrooms at constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab and Haryana that went to polls in the seventh and last phase of elections May 19. Although these machines, it has been clarified in cases as in Chandauli in UP, were not the ones used for polling, the delay in taking them to the holding rooms has raised speculation that they were deliberately held back possibly to facilitate wrongdoing.
Election officials have been quick to deny foul play and have cited logistical challenges, among other things, as the cause for delay. The claims will need to be investigated, among the many other irregularities that were reported earlier in the season. The rules laid down by the ECI clearly state that all EVMs should reach strongrooms soon after elections with due security arrangements. It is alleged that the EVMs in question were transported in private vehicles without the escort of central paramilitary forces. Lapses on the part of election officials may also have risen due to the long duration of the election process. The ECI is finding it hard to deny allegations that the entire process was stretched out to facilitate Prime Minister Narendra Modi to cover election campaigning across the country. Setting the date of counting so far apart from the final phase of polling has given room for tampering. EVMs that were used in the first phase of elections are still under lock and key, and under security cover for so long that it is an open invitation to foul play. The duration of the election has also given enough ammunition to the opposition. The losing side has many a times resorted to blaming EVMs for electoral losses. But the biggest loss in the whole process is the one of credibility of the ECI. The commission will have to do much introspection and ensure that it does not dilute its position for narrow interests. Much work needs to be done to restore faith in the institution. The machines are just tools in the hands of the people that operate them. These machines that have made the electoral process much easier and simpler can be useful tools only as long as those responsible for their operation do their duties conscientiously.
This was one election in which the participation of voters, particularly women, has seen great increase. Laxity on the part of the ECI can result in damaging the faith that people place in the process of democracy.