Suspicious movement of EVMs raises eyebrows in Solapur
The VBA plans to lodge complaints against the suspicious incident
Amid heavy flood situation across the western parts of Maharashtra, a Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) member has released two videos of EVM machines being suspiciously transported in two trucks, raising eyebrows just ahead of the assembly elections.
Sohan Londhe, a resident of Solapur was attending a VBA party meeting regarding upcoming elections, when he noticed two trucks parked outside the Solapur government rest house. Upon seeing the ‘Election Material Urgent’ label on each of the trucks, he immediately went live on his Facebook page. “I was curious what was this urgent material that needed to be transported right away. Upon inquiring here, it turns out that there are EVM machines inside. While the state struggles with heavy floods, does this seem like an attempt by BJP to tamper with the EVMs? This matter requires further investigation”, he said in his Facebook live video.
Londhe has informed that the machines in the truck were being guarded by two policemen who refused to give out any information for they feared losing their jobs. “There were two policemen guarding the boxes and when I asked them about the contents of the big plastic boxes in the trucks, they hinted the “urgent material” were in fact EVM machines. Unfortunately, they could not speak on camera. Even the police force is being used as puppets right now, instilling fear in them of getting suspended”, he said.
While the police were not able to speak on camera, Londhe did manage to film his conversation with the truck driver on his mobile phone. When Londhe questions Santram Yadav, the truck driver, about EVM machines being the “urgent material”, Yadav repeatedly says he has only been informed that there are plastic boxes inside and has no idea about the actual contents. “There are around 40 plastic boxes in my truck, I don’t know about the second truck. I also don’t know what is inside these boxes. We left from Bangalore to Hyderabad, and are now heading towards Jalgaon”, the driver replied.
However, Sohan Londhe claims that prior to speaking on the video, the driver had admitted to transporting EVMs in the large plastic boxes. Additionally, number plates of both the trucks said that they belonged from Thane, but Londhe could not find out who had hired these trucks.
Earlier in May, political leaders from different parts of India had voiced their suspicions of EVMs being replaced to manipulate the Lok Sabha election results. Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi Manish Sisodia had tweeted screenshots of a news channel footage that claimed EVMs were being replaced at every polling booth while the Election Commission and media chose to ignore it. Similar such incidents were reported in various cities of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Punjab, Bihar and Maharashtra.
Speaking about this turn of events, former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan has said that while his party continues to search for strong evidences that prove EVMs are being tampered or hacked, this video isn’t one of them. He stated that, “The state is allowed to transport and exchange EVMs ahead of elections for various reasons. It is a very normal and common activity. This video isn’t a strong proof to claim EVMs are being tampered with and until there is no hardcore evidence, I cannot comment any further on this”.
According to a Maharashtra Election Commission official, EVMs are moved regularly from one city to another, especially ahead of elections to conduct mock polls. He further stated that the EVMS were likely being sent to Belgaum from Kolhapur, a normal route for this customary process. “If the usual route is Belgaum to Kolhapur, what was the truck doing in Solapur before heading to Jalgaon? It doesn’t add up. We also fail to understand why did the Election Commission could not wait until the flood situation was under control. Conducting mock polls or transporting EVMs for security checks is surely not important than the floods currently”, said another VBA member Pavan Mhaske.
Albeit Sujaat Ambedkar has seen the video and personally talked with Londhe, he has cited party protocols and refrained from commenting on the issue before the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi takes an official stand. However, sometime after midnight yesterday, VBA members had stopped the truck from leaving Solapur. After having a conversation with Prakash Ambedkar today, the party members lodged a police complaint and demanded a search investigation for both the trucks in the presence of the collector and other officials. “Though we demanded the search investigation, they did not do anything as Pune’s Collector officer sent a letter to police officials. The letter stated that the EVMs were being transported as a part of routine check and such actions will create obstacles for the government while it performs its duties”, informed Sohan Londhe.
An election official has also talked with one of the members stating the EVMs were being moved from Bangalore after they were sent to BEL company for maintenance check. “EVMs that were defective during the FLC (first level checking) were also transferred to Bangalore as a part of the customary process. However, floods delayed the process by 8 days. Such skepticism will erode the credibility of the election process”, the election official said further.
VBA members have however questioned the timing of the EVM transportation and the heavy floods, besides the truck halting at Solapur prior to heading Jalgaon, which is nowhere on the regular route between Bangalore to Kolhapur.
Baldev Harpal Singh, Chief Election Officer for upcoming Vidhan Sabha elections in Maharashtra has also dismissed this incident as a mere security process that all EVMs undergo. Speaking about the process of transporting EVMs, he said, “This is just an inter-state transportation as machines are procured from various places under escort. And about the change in route, about how the machines landed in Solapur if they were on a Bangalore-Kolhapur route – these details are finalised by the state officials and the security officials escorting the machines. No one needs to read too much into it”. He further added that EVMs cannot be replaced or tampered with and the public should trust the operations conducted by election officials.