India bloc
The INDIA bloc of Opposition parties fears possible tinkering with votes keyed in by tens of millions in EVMs through seven phases of polls. Image: PTI

What's fuelling anxiety among Opposition, activists about counting day

Minimum victory margin is 0.5%, so even a small counting error or manipulation may alter results; EC's conduct since April 19 has not inspired much confidence

Delhi is today virtually confronted with what the former Russian ruler Joseph Stalin had once famously said about elections — “Those who cast the vote decide nothing. Those who count the vote decide everything.”
Somehow, this not only reflects the truth about elections in Russia even today, but also weighs as much upon India as counting day, June 4, approaches.
Rife with fear
The INDIA bloc of Opposition parties fears possible tinkering with votes keyed in by tens of millions in electronic voting machines (EVMs) through seven phases of polls that began and April 19 and ended on June 1.
But India is no Russia and Russia too is no India. A multiparty democracy has far more deeper roots in the case of India and it stemmed from decades of mass struggle that left the colonial rule of nearly 200 years with no justification to continue beyond 1947.
And, soon thereafter, five-yearly elections both for Central and State legislatures have become a norm with the lone exception of Emergency which saw the exit of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She lost the polls that she had thought would vindicate her and the Emergency imposed by her, by returning her to power. This was not to be.
What happened in 1977
But, back then, or in 1977, the air was as — or even more — fraught with the fear of rigging by replacing ballot papers after the polls as is the case now from the viewpoint of today’s Opposition, though in a different way because of EVMs.
Raj Narain, who challenged Indira in polls in Raebareli, personally joined a team that guarded the place where the ballots were kept after the polling was over. He won the polls and the rest is history.
Forty-seven years have elapsed since but the fear about poll-count staff and bosses tweaking people’s verdict is as palpable in the minds of Opposition parties in 2024 as it was in 1977.
The core group of top Congress leaders met in New Delhi on Friday, May 31, to discuss this. They met again on Sunday, June 2, and a delegation of INDIA bloc leaders met the Election Commission (EC) with a slew of demands and complaints.
The Opposition has been discussing preparedness for keeping a vigil on June 4’s counting of votes throughout the country.
Civil bodies take action
The INDIA coalition would get 295-plus Lok Sabha seats so as to form the next government easily, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge emphasised.
Unlike him, civil society groups have been sceptical about the poll results. These groups have been meeting in Bengaluru and Delhi since May 21. They have formed a citizens’ vigilance committee to keep a tab over the storage of EVMs and counting of votes in 225-250 Lok Sabha constituencies.
The committee sought to guide candidates and counting agents on how best they can ensure a fair counting process.
Independent Rajya Sabha member and ace lawyer Kapil Sibal released a form for candidates and their counting agents to make correct entries of EVM numbers, date, time and votes shown on them for tallying these with the Form 17-C given to candidates by the EC after the polling.
Lawyers, former bureaucrats, retired judges, members of intelligentsia, student and youth bodies, and farm leaders have been alerted to be prepared so as to take on the EC, which has been under the close watch of political parties and activists throughout the polls.
EC faces flak
The EC has been accused of jacking up the percentage of votes polled 11 days after the first round of polls took place on April 19, and even after the second phase held on May 26.
Former IAS officer MG Devasahayam was among those who participated in a May 28 Delhi meeting of civil society groups. In an interview published the following day, he said: “They are changing the voting percentage after voting is done. And that too by 5-6 per cent of votes, which is clear manipulation. The victory margin is 0.5 per cent maximum, and here the EC is changing the vote count by 5-6 per cent.”
The civil society networks meeting held in Delhi on May 28 passed a resolution that said, among other things, “We collectively express our deep concern at possibilities of manipulation in the counting process and the transition period that follows thereafter. On behalf of the electorate of India, we would like to affirm that if the counting of votes is done freely, fairly and transparently, the mandate will be clearly against the policies of this regime. Moreover, if this mandate is fairly implemented, change is definitely assured to the People of India.”
“We would like to state with concern that at no point in the history of the Indian Republic has the citizen’s faith in institutions of democracy been at such an all-time low. Given this, and the ongoing subversion of the autonomy and independence of functioning institutions of governance, we wish to collectively alert fellow citizens from across the country on the days and weeks ahead," the resolution added.

Days after this, there has been no response or efforts from the EC to address the criticism.

Recent events raise alarm

The apprehensions expressed in the resolution are backed by a few concrete incidents in the recent past with regard to EVMs. So much so that Opposition parties fear these could impact the results.
For instance, the Sharad Pawar faction of NCP's Baramati candidate Supriya Sule has filed a complaint with the EC. She found on May 13 the CCTV cameras installed in the room storing EVMs after voting in her constituency going off for 45 minutes.
“The CCTVs going off for 45 minutes is suspicious; when we contacted the election department officials and the administration, we didn't get a satisfactory reply. There is no technician present, and our party functionary is not allowed to survey the EVMs. This is a very serious issue and the Election Commission should take immediate cognizance and disclose why the CCTVs went off," Sule is reported to have said.
Suspicion on EC
In another incident reported from Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh, a truckload of EVMs was intercepted by Samajwadi Party (SP) workers near the strongroom where EVMs used in the polls were already kept.
There was a great commotion as the District Magistrate arrived to pacify agitated SP workers by saying that the EVMs in the truck were not meant for counting and arrived at the storage point due to oversight on the part of the truck driver and the government staff assisting him.
“There is a lot of suspicion against the Election Commission of India," observed Devasahayam. "There is a lot of tampering happening in voters' lists and particularly minority votes are being deleted. The Election Commission has done nothing about it. Cross-verification is not happening when it comes to counting what you have seen as a voter in the [VVPAT] slip which the Election Commission is not counting. They misled the Supreme Court of India and filed a false affidavit. So, you as a voter do not know how many votes were polled and how many votes were counted.”
Exit poll concerns
Amid such grave suspicions being voiced by highly responsible persons, the Congress first decided to keep its TV panellists off live media debates on exit polls. The exit polls, on June 1 evening, gave a whopping majority to the BJP-led NDA. But the Congress revised its decision and said its spokespersons would participate in the debates to "expose the BJP".
The Congress believes that the exit polls are a set-up to mould, shape and prepare the public mind for the kind of verdict that the ruling establishment wants the actual polls to throw up with the help of the EC.
Briefing newspersons on June 1, Kharge said the INDIA bloc has sought time with the EC to seek adequate safeguards during counting of votes. Sibal held a separate press conference around the same time to point out the change of certain rules by the EC regarding the procedure of counting of postal ballots alongside EVM vote count.
Counting of postal ballots
On Sunday, a delegation of INDIA bloc leaders met the EC
with a slew of demands. The statutory provision which requires counting of postal ballots to be completed before EVM votes are counted must be followed, asserted the Congress.
Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi termed the EC's decision to change a statutory rule through a guideline to enable counting of EVM votes before the counting of postal ballots "legally untenable".
Meanwhile, in an open letter to Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar, farmer outfits’ umbrella body Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) demanded that the EC should not give “the farmers and the people of the country any reason to believe that their popular mandate has been undermined by any element of unfair conduct in any constituency”.
It asked the EC to ensure free and transparent counting as per the procedure, share the exact details of the votes periodically with the public as warranted by rules, check all violations with strict and strong action against those involved and to notify all returning officers about the concerns of the farmers.
“SKM (has) twice publicly requested the EC to take punitive action and put a six-year ban on contesting elections on those including Narendra Modi, who ever violated the law (rules regarding campaigning). Unfortunately, the EC adhered to the reticent way of inaction, delaying action and finally concluded it (the polls) with 'giving advice' to the law breakers. Thus, the failure of EC in upholding constitutional responsibility allowed BJP’s divisive ideology to prevail and influence the people at large during the election,” the letter said.
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