Huge political slugfest over EVM 'unlocking' charge; poll officer reacts to OTP claims. Who said what? 10 points | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Huge political slugfest over EVM 'unlocking' charge; poll officer reacts to OTP claims. Who said what? 10 points

Jun 17, 2024 11:20 AM IST

A poll official has rejected a report by Mid-Day as “false news” and said a defamation notice had been issued to the publication.

Allegations of electronic voting machine hacking in the Mumbai North West Lok Sabha seat have snowballed into a major political slugfest between the Opposition and the Bharatiya Janata Party, even as a poll official claimed that an EVM was a standalone system with "robust administrative safeguards" to protect it from manipulation and that an OTP was not needed to unlock it.

The Election Commission said EVMs are standalone devices without any wires or wireless connectivity with units outside the EVM system.
The Election Commission said EVMs are standalone devices without any wires or wireless connectivity with units outside the EVM system.

On Sunday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and other Opposition leaders, citing a report by Mid-Day newspaper that alleged that a relative of Ravindra Waikar, the Shiv Sena candidate who emerged victorious there by a wafer-thin margin of 48 votes in Mumbai North West Lok Sabha constituency, was found using a mobile phone “connected” to an EVM during the counting of votes on June 4 of the general elections.

Also Read | ‘Chat bhi meri, pat bhi meri’: Jyotiraditya Scindia attacks Rahul Gandhi over EVM hack claims

However, Vandana Suryavanshi, returning officer of the Mumbai North West Lok Sabha constituency, rejected the report as “false news” and said a defamation notice had been issued to the publication.

The BJP also attacked the opposition leaders over the issue and demanded that the Election Commission of India prosecute all those who “amplified the lie” by sharing the news report.

What did Mid-Day claim?

The Mid-Day report claimed that Mangesh Pandilkar, the brother in law of Ravindra Waikar, had used a mobile phone to “unlock” an EVM when the votes were being counted, allegations which returning officer Vandana Suryavanshi and Mumbai police rubbished. Mangesh Pandilkar and a polling official Dinesh Gurav have been booked by the Vanrai Police under section 188 of the Indian Penal Code for flouting the EC ban on mobile phones inside counting centres.

Also Read | Elon Musk doubles down with 'Anything can be hacked' jab as BJP leader defends India's EVM

Mid-Day, Lokmat issued notice

At a press conference on Sunday, Vandana Suryavanshi said notices had been issued to Mid-Day and Marathi daily Lokmat for allegedly publishing false news, adding they have been asked to respond within 24 hours as to why criminal proceedings under Section 499 and 505 should not be initiated, news agency PTI reported.

Poll officer admits mobile phone was used found

Vandana Suryavanshi said the personal mobile phone of one Dinesh Gurav, the data entry operator of Jogeshwari assembly constituency, was found in the hands of an unauthorised person, and action is being taken in this regard, PTI added.

"Data entry and vote counting are two different aspects. An OTP enables the ARO to open the encore login system for data entry. The counting process is independent and has nothing to do with unauthorised use of mobile phone, which is an unfortunate incident and is being probed," PTI quoted Suryavanshi as saying.

"Advance technical features and robust administrative safeguards are in place to rule out any possibility of manipulation. Safeguards include conducting everything in the presence of candidates or their agents," Suryavanshi said.

The official added that neither Waikar or losing candidate Amol Kirtikar of the Shiv Sena (UBT) had sought a recount but verification of invalid postal ballots was demanded and it was done.

EVM tempering allegations: Who said what?

  1. Rahul Gandhi described EVMs “black box” and said serious concerns are being raised about transparency in the country's electoral process. "EVMs in India are a ‘black box’, and nobody is allowed to scrutinize them. Serious concerns are being raised about transparency in our electoral process. Democracy ends up becoming a sham and prone to fraud when institutions lack accountability," Rahul Gandhi said in a post on 'X'.
  2. Senior Congress leader and former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said the poll result of the Mumbai North West Lok Sabha seat must be stayed. The ECI must call a meeting of all parties and discuss this issue thoroughly, he demanded. "There must be a probe into the unauthorised used of the mobile phone. The FIR report has not been made public," Prithviraj Chavan said.
  3. Nationalist Congress Party (Sharadchandra Pawar) spokesperson Clyde Crasto said the fact that a relative of Ravindra Waikar had access to the mobile phone of an EC official is a cause for concern. The EC's polling officer has said OTP is required only for data entry of the vote counting process, which means generation of this OTP can also give access to data to Waikar's kin, and it can be manipulated by him or his team, Crasto said. "This is very serious. The ECI needs to come clean on what transpired in the time the phone was with Waikar's team," he said.
  4. Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Aaditya Thackeray said the ECI lacks courage to release the CCTV camera footage related to the seat. "We have always had suspicions about this regime tampering with EVMs. Even Elon Musk has expressed his views, claiming everything can be hacked. Despite several requests, the Election Commission does not have the courage to release the CCTV footage of the counting day that would support our claims," Aaditya Thackeray claimed.
  5. Raising several questions, Shiv Sena (UBT) MP Priyanka Chaturvedi wrote, “why did it take ten days to file an FIR? Mumbai Police has still not denied this story? Why is the cctv footage not being shared with either the Police or candidates who are asking for it? Why was the phone with data entry operator of EC found with the relative of a candidate? Madam RO herself has said that OTP were received on that phone for entering the ENCORE portal (EC data portal) Let ECI order a transparent public probe to refute the police investigation.”
  6. Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal declined to comment on the EVM, saying it is a “big issue” as he took a dig at the Supreme Court's ruling on EVMs, news agency ANI reported. “When the Supreme Court of India said that we must trust our machines, and we must trust the Election Commission of India if the Supreme Court itself is trusting them, why should I comment on them? If we start trusting the government and the machines, then all work should be done through the machines. Why do courts exist then? If we start trusting the government, then what is the use of giving verdicts? This is a big issue; I will comment on it later,” Kapil Sibal told ANI.
  7. Congress' ally and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav also questioned the credibility of EVMs and demanded that all future elections should be conducted through ballot papers. “'Technology' is meant to solve problems, if it becomes the cause of problems then its use should be stopped. Today, when fears of EVM tampering are being expressed in many elections of the world and the world's renowned technology experts are openly writing about the danger of EVM tampering, then what is the reason behind the insistence on using EVM, the BJP should clarify this. We reiterate our demand that all future elections be conducted using ballot papers,” Akhilesh Yadav posted on X in Hindi.
  8. Meanwhile, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk called for eliminating EVMs. In a recent post on X, Elon Musk had said, “We should eliminate electronic voting machines. The risk of being hacked by humans or AI, while small, is still too high.”
  9. Former Union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar strongly countered Elon Musk's criticism of EVMs and termed it “a huge sweeping generalisation” even as the Tesla boss responded saying “anything can be hacked”. Chandrasekhar, former minister of state for Electronics and IT, argued that the latter's statement saying, “This is a huge sweeping generalisation statement that implies no one can build secure digital hardware. Wrong.” He further said that while such a view “may apply to US and other places - where they use regular compute platforms to build Internet connected Voting machines”, the Indian EVMs are secure and isolated from any network.
  10. BJP spokesperson Shehzad Poonawalla said Rahul Gandhi, who speaks of the black box, wants to hide his black deeds and, therefore, he wants to use a half-baked story to peddle his lies and fakery. "To hide the black deeds of Karnataka where the price of diesel and petrol has been increased, he is using a fake story and peddling half-truths and full lies. Rahul Gandhi has pushed forward a story that says OTP is required to unlock EVMs. Many other people from his ecosystem have also said this. The EC came out and clarified that no OTP is required for ‘unlocking’... EVMs are stand-alone machines. They are like calculators. There's no network connectivity, so there's no question of it being hacked," Shehzad Poonawalla told ANI.

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