Chennai, Feb 28: Hailing how we still have our elections ‘on time, each time, every time’ while in the same breath highlighting the malaise of money and muscle power that plague the biggest democratic exercise in India, Former Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla opened his discussion with students at Asian College of Journalism here on Tuesday with the issue surrounding the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the context of the fast approaching general elections.
He threw light on both the pros and cons of elections in India, focussing on the orderly transfer of power post elections as compared to many other nations and the increasing number of registered voters on roll despite the low literacy rates in many areas. While he didn’t fail to mention the ‘Black Money’ monster that hovers over the whole process, he pointed out how the most recent example of the same was the 2017 R K Nagar by- election fiasco in Chennai where the Election Commission cancelled elections after allegations of cash-for-vote surfaced; a similar case had happened in the past in Thirumangalam in Madurai district in the State. All such malpractices raise questions on the fairness of this largely successful, ‘free and fair’ democratic exercise.
In this context, the issue of paid and fake news were also discussed, how these have become ways of manipulating the polls and tilting the scales in favour of one side as opposed to the other, all this happening with the money power that is an ever growing threat to the same. The media’s role in such practices has also been observed and many media houses of repute have been part of such activity, said Navin Chawla, refraining from naming any.
Responding to a question on state funding of elections as a possible solution to the issue of money power being used, he said that there are several models we could follow on the lines of countries like Mexico where the election commission, though not as strong and robust as the ECI, but nonetheless it steps in to monitor the time and space available to several political parties ahead of elections allotting them time and space on TV and in print proportionately. This, he said, is one of the many such models which could serve as a solution.
With respect to EVMs, he said, “My views have been cast in stone in this book,” referring to his newly released book Every Vote Counts: The Story of India’s Elections. He pointed out that in recent years, those who lose tend to blame the EVMs.“I think that our EVM and our system of accountability is completely safe,” he added.