Kommineni Srinivasa Rao

The younger generation does not have an idea of how elections used to be conducted with the help of ballot boxes earlier. Till about two decades ago, elections were held using ballot papers. Booth capturing and rigging were common occurrences back then and there would invariably be chaos at the time of counting.

These atrocities would hit a crescendo in areas known for factionism. Often, voters would snatch ballot papers and bring them outside. In some places, ruffians and anti-social elements would barge into polling booths and seize entire books containing ballot papers and mechanically affix the stamp of the candidate or party they favoured.

Later they would tell voters that their votes had been cast and drive them away. In Koilakuntla constituency of Kurnool district in the 1994 elections, it was reported that a candidate resorted to similar kind of rigging after taking over a polling booth.

However, after he and his men cast a few thousand votes in his favour, and he got confident that his opponent could not win, he sat down quietly. As it turned out, due to the slender majority in other places, his opponent managed to win, legend goes.

Those who resorted to rigging and booth capturing, used to take certain precautions such as ensuring that in a booth with 1000 votes for instance, about 50-100 votes were cast for the rival candidate while the rest went in favour of the candidate they backed. In such a scenario, it was impossible to detect if anything went amiss especially if the local police colluded with such miscreants.

Back then, authorities did not have access to the photographs of voters and fake votes were cast indiscriminately. Rigging was a big election racket in itself.

Today, we have a proper system in place with electoral rolls complete with photographs of voters. This is backed by webcasting and CCTV Surveillance. It must be said that incidents of rigging have dipped sharply since 1999 when EVMs were first introduced. It is not as though rigging has been eliminated entirely. But it has been checked substantially.

Each vote has to be cast separately in an EVM and in earlier elections, there was talk of irregularities at the time of counting. It was argued that authorities would help a certain candidate depending on how the trends appeared at the time. In the current scenario, it is not easy to manipulate results of elections conducted by EVMs, though election agents need to be vigilant. In the case of ballot papers, election agents were sometimes reduced to being helpless spectators.

It is strange that Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu wants a throwback to the ballot paper mode instead of EVMs. His argument and that of the others is the solution to discrepancy between VVPAT slips and the final count in EVMs. Why this should be so is anybody's guess. Assuming that such a mismatch would arise, it would certainly be to a very small extent.

In the past, valid and invalid votes along with votes cast for various parties would sometimes throw up discrepancies, but the election authorities would declare the results after verifying them. Today, the voter knows clearly as to who he voted for. The counting of VVPAT slips is a time-consuming exercise.

Hence the Supreme Court in its wisdom decided to raise the number of VVPAT slips to be counted in each constituency on a random basis to five booths from one. It dismissed the opposition's plea for 50% verification, as demanded by Chandrababu Naidu and the others who have since kicked up a big fuss over the matter. This is yet another pointer to Chandrababu's fear of impending defeat, it appears.

It is very likely that technical aspects of VVPAT could get simplified with advanced technology in the years to come. What is bizarre is Chandrababu Naidu's demand for the total scrapping of the EVM system and a return to ballot papers. This is particularly odd, considering it comes as it does from a politician who brags about his emphasis on a knowledge of technology. Moreover, it is a clear sign of opportunism.

There is nothing wrong in seeking the rectification of any glitch, but asking for the wholesale scrapping of EVMs and a return to ballot boxes makes us wonder about the kind of political leaders our country has. It must be said that the image of the Congress has also been dented in this matter. One also gains the impression that these political parties are regressive in their thinking and trying to bring in outdated systems.

All parties need to be vigilant at the time of counting to ensure that the VVPAT slips are not tampered with.

With TDP leaders expressing doubts in this matter, it is all the more important for officials to be watchful in the matter and take necessary steps.

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