By Dr. Kateipfona, nagavoices (at) rediffmail.com
The 10th General Election in Manipur saw the use of lemon mobile handsets for capturing the image of voters. This innovation was presumably introduced to prevent proxy voting. But this half baked idea is now the centre of a storm that will leave the Election Commission of India dumfounded. The state of Manipur has been used as a guinea pig and the surgery which was attempted with such a sloppy and ill conceived mechanism has resulted with grave potentials for the future of democracy. A critique on the issue is furnished as follows –
1. Digital cameras were not used and the questionable quality of the lemon mobile handset selected for the purpose presumably was done in order to cut down cost. Many of the images were blurred either due to poor lighting or camera quality. The image quality were reported to be, in some cases so poor so much so that it could not be made out if the image is of a male or a female or that of a young or old person.
2. After the EVMs are closed on conclusion of polling, the election officials handling the camera can play mischief by tampering with the sequence or numbering of EPIC. On reaching HQs for safekeeping till counting day, the Returning Officer can also tamper with the same. Anybody with working knowledge of computers will have the capability to do this.
3. So when the polling officers and presiding officers in consultation with the polling agents of all the candidates have through consensus closed the polling and sealed the EVMs, the responsibility for irregularities that have now surfaced must be borne by the Officials who have conducted the polling.
4. The duty and responsibilities of the election officials deputed to polling station is to ensure that there is no proxy voting. Otherwise it would be enough to install only an EVM in each polling station and leave the rest to the voters. The officials must be therefore be held responsible for any lapses that have been observed on this issue.
5. Election observers sent by the ECI had duly made their inspection visits to the polling stations and their reports of free and fair pollings should have been respected.
6. While the guidelines/circulars from the ECI made photographing of voters mandatory, more than 2.18 lacs voters were not photographed, which is about 12.5% of the total of 17.41 lacs voters. Why was it not made applicable across the board?
7. The use of camera was more strictly implemented in the hills than in the Imphal valley.
8. There was no organic connect between the Electronic Voting Machines(EVMs) and the Lemon cameras. The photos affixed to the EPIC is the only reference for the lemon cameras. A software to detect anomalies is reportedly being used. If that be so, on detection of mismatch and proxy, what can be done? At the most, the person identified can be punished. But you cannot invalidate his/her vote because it is already in the EVM. The ECI can use an ultra sophisticated technology to determine whom the errant voters had exactly voted for and if this can be done without raising another storm, deduct the number of such errant votes from the total polled by the supported candidate. Can be possibly done but it almost impossible.
9. Now the other option is to go for repoll. But already complaints have been submitted for repoll in 468 polling stations, which represent almost 20% of the total of 2357 in the state. But what about the other polling stations for which no complaints have been submitted but where the same faulty mechanism had been employed. The abuse of the mechanism was universal and the difference is only in degrees. So logically the repolls will have to be as good as a total re-election.
10. One important question that comes to mind is why did the ECI accept complaints directly at their Delhi office when initially the State Returning Officers and the State Chief Election Officer had rejected the complaints, taking into consideration the local situation and ground realities where decision making is done at the village and community levels. The ECI had also entertained the complaints of only the Indian National Congress candidates at their Delhi office, while all complaints irrespective of parties had been rejected at the state level. Why this differential treatment? Have some of the ECI officials been compromised in their integrity.
11. Having committed the fatal mistake of opening the floodgate of complaints by superseding the good judgement at the state level , the ECI will have to be held responsible for bungling the whole exercise, for wasting enormous resources, putting the electorates to great inconvenience and depriving them of the right to have democratically elected representatives in due time.
Now saddled with all these problems and question, the ECI can only consider the following options to get out of this imbroglio –
(i) Apologise to the nation for having experimented with the lemon camera without due care and entertaining complaints over the controversial issue of photo mismatch without taking into account the ground realities and wasting precious resources in terms of manpower, funds and logistics.
(ii) Reimburse all expenditures incurred by all the candidates and their parties and supporters.
(iii) Conduct a full scale re-election as none of the polling station will be found to be in line with the ECI guidelines.
B. Alternatively, reject all complaints as was done at the state level and allow counting of votes as they were received from the EVMs.
Both the options are far from easy and will be met with strong resistance. But the ECI, which is a constitutional authority, will have to exercise the option that would be the least damaging to the fragile Democracy that has subsisted in this part of the country all this years since the Independence of India, the world’s largest Democracy.