Can BJP's Office-bearers Run the Affairs of Bharat Electronics, which Makes EVMs, Asks EAS Sarma
Moneylife Digital Team 02 February 2024
EAS Sarma, former secretary to the government of India (GoI), has asked election commission of India (ECI) to come clean on this even at this belated hour, direct the concerned authorities to revoke the directorship of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-affiliated persons from the board of Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) and place the details of the action taken by it in the public domain for the people of this country to see.
 
Mr Sarma, in a letter to chief election commissioner Rajiv Kumar and two other election commissioners in ECI, says, "BJP, as a political party, has an important role in running the affairs of the BEL, which leads one to the inevitable inference that the BJP continues to supervise the functioning of the BEL, a CPSE which is closely engaged in the manufacture and supply of the electronic voting machines (EVMs) including the development of the 'secret' encrypted source code which is embedded in the chips that form the core of the EVMs."
 
Here is the letter sent by Mr Sarma to ECI…
 
To
Shri Rajiv Kumar
Chief Election Commissioner
Election Commission of India (ECI)
 
Shri A C Pandey
Election Commissioner
Election Commission of India (ECI)
 
Shri Arun Goel
Election Commissioner
Election Commission of India (ECI)
 
Dear S/Shri Rajiv Kumar/ Pandey/ Goel,
 
Earlier, I had brought to your attention how at least four BJP's nominees have been nominated to be "independent" directors on the board of Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), which is engaged in highly sensitive work of developing the software for electronic voting machines (EVMs) for elections. 
 
This implies that the BJP, as a political party, has an important role in running the affairs of the BEL, which leads one to the inevitable inference that the BJP continues to supervise the functioning of the BEL, a CPSE which is closely engaged in the manufacture and supply of the EVMs including development of the  "secret" encrypted source code which is embedded in the chips that form the core of the EVMs. 
 
Despite my bringing this disturbing fact to ECI's attention quite some time ago, I find that the ECI, for reasons best known to it, has deliberately chosen not to act, suggesting that the Commission remains unconcerned about the level playing ground in elections being brazenly tilted in favour of the ruling BJP!
 
I was trying to scan the website of the BEL today and, to my anguish, I found that the background of one of the "Independent" Directors, Shri Mansukhbhai Shamjibhai Khachariya, is explicitly shown as… 
 
 
While I have no intention to question the credentials of Shri Khanchariya in any manner, does not the Commission find it highly objectionable for an important office bearer of the BJP to be nominated to the BEL's Board as an 'independent ' Director? The Companies Act mandates that an independent Director should play a pivotal role in managing the affairs of the company. In the instant case, this particular company is closely engaged in the manufacture and supply of EVMs, especially at a time when there is growing criticism against EVM technology and its vulnerability to manipulation. 
 
It is ironic that, instead of agreeing to have a relook at the questions raised against the EVMs, the ECI has gone to the other extreme of obstinately defending it, literally deifying it, closing its eyes to the harsh reality that many countries have stopped using the EVMs and there have been instances of malfunctioning of the EVMs in our instance. The Commission has compounded the public concern by refusing to cross-verify the EVM count of votes vis-a-vis the paper ballots. The Commission, by its own admission, is using the EVMs without totalisers, which precludes the mixing of ballots among different booths in a constituency, violating the mandatory requirement of secrecy of booth-level voting. 
 
In addition to Shri Khanchariya, there are at least three other "independent" Directors of BEL who have an affiliation with the BJP. 
 
Clearly, there is a conflict of interest in BEL having persons affiliated with the BJP as its independent Directors, considering that the BEL's independence as a CPSE is of critical importance for it to be entrusted with the manufacture and supply of EVMs. 
 
This raises concerns on several fronts:
 
1. The fact that BEL's website proudly displays Shri Khanchariya's background as a member of the BJP suggests the blurring of the dividing line between the ruling political executive and the functioning of the BEL, which is expected under Article 12 of the Constitution to act as "an arm" of the State and play a critical role in ensuring that the EVMs supplied by it are not vulnerable to manipulation.
 
2. The fact that the BEL, fully endorsed by the Commission, has refused to subject its source code to an open independent audit reinforces the public's concerns about the way EVMs are used in our country and their vulnerability to manipulation.
 
3. What disturbs me all the more is that the Commission, apparently not fully realising its role as a Constitutional authority and as the custodian for conducting elections in a free and fair manner, should close its eyes to this and openly become a party to the ruling political executive inducting four of its representatives to run the affairs of the BEL. Does it not imply that the ECI no longer considers itself to be an independent Constitutional authority?
 
4. Despite the above position w.r.t BEL's Board being brought to the notice of the Commission more than a year ago, the Commission has chosen to remain a party to such a brazen conflict of interest, knowing well that it would erode the credibility of the presently deployed EVM machines and the credibility of the Commission itself
 
If the Commission has any respect for its own role under Article 324 and is truly concerned about maintaining the integrity of the electoral processes, it should come clean on this even at this belated hour, and direct the concerned authorities to revoke the directorship of party-affiliated persons from BEL's Board and place the details of the action taken by it in the public domain for the people of this country to see. 
 
The Commission has ample authority under Article 324 of the Constitution to intervene in such a matter. The apex court made the following observation on 2-5-2002 in WP(C) 294/2001 [Civil Appeal 7178/2001] (Association for Democratic Reforms vs Union of India & Others):
 
"where such law is silent, Article 324 is a reservoir of power to act for the avowed purpose of, not divorced from, pushing forward a free and fair election with expedition..."
 
If the Commission fails to invoke its authority in such a vital matter, its credibility, which has already come under intense public scrutiny, will further erode, a situation that does not augur well for the future of our democracy.
 
I sincerely hope that the Commission will not let down the nation at least in this case!
 
Regards,
 
Yours sincerely,
EAS Sarma
Comments
adityag
4 months ago
Umm.....BEL made EVMs during Congress regime. Their obsession with EVMs knows no bounds.
hemrajgarva
4 months ago
It is mandatory for all constitutional institutions, not just Bell, to be independent.
ramalingam.raman
4 months ago
BEL has been producing and supplying the EVMs for more than three decades. These period includes the Congress regimes also. Having independent directors of ruling party doesn't mean that the Company can do wrong things as alleged by someone having vested interests. I am very sure that this is a wrong message being spread during this period.... Those who cannot face Elections confidently are trying to indulge in mischievous affairs.
abhay1955
4 months ago
Both the articles on this issue are of serious nature. Who will inspect and audit the programming before loading the same on the chips in EVMs? Is this move towards 'Is baar 400 paar?'
parimalshah1
5 months ago
On moral and ethical grounds, the BJP should have refrained from being on the board of BEL. IT creates a potential for conflict of interest.
But at the same time, we must acknowledge that BJP gets more votes due to brand Modi.
The PM Modi is the sincerest prime minister India has had so far. He thinks of the nation first unlike most other politicians who see family and power and the party first, even at the cost of national security at times.
mfarooqac
5 months ago
Who cares for democracy now?! Who bothers about their integrity now ?!. No use speaking about democracy or integrity nowadays. Those were the days gone.
remyaraav
5 months ago
it's important to maintain vigilance. Ensuring the security of EVMs is an ongoing process that requires constant monitoring and updating of technologies and procedures to safeguard against evolving threats. Trust in the electoral process is fundamental to democracy, and it's crucial that both the reality and the perception of secure, fair voting are upheld.
SRS
5 months ago
Here we go again with this paranoid rubbish about EVMs. Anyone who understands how these systems are designed, and how the polling process in each booth actually works, and how the boxes are secured and then opened and tallied, will know that there is basically zero probability of the polling process being hacked.

If the BJP is hacking EVMs, they're very poor at it, considering the shellacking they received in electorally important states like WB and Karnataka, and by how narrow their margins have been in places like Rajasthan, where they were projected to win big. Or maybe they're so crafty and cunning that they're deliberately losing some strategic elections to give people the illusion that EVMs are safe.

The simplest answer is that they aren't hacking them. And that's not because they're noble and honest, but because the machines and the voting process around them can't really be hacked.
bhatiahv
Replied to SRS comment 5 months ago
Rightly said, this was expected as these RUDALI Gangs will be active till Elections.
mathew.111938
Replied to SRS comment 5 months ago
Please watch this to know about EVMs. Think, if you can, why Japan who supplies us the chips does NOT use EVMs. Why Germany banned. Why NO major democracy in the world uses EVMs?Watch ????
https://youtu.be/156kdapQggg?si=CV2JAnDb6u4wpg2E
arunhatti392
Replied to mathew.111938 comment 4 months ago
Do you think that we have that discipline?
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