NEW DELHI : A day after a US-based ‘cyber expert’ alleged that electronic voting machines (EVMs) can be hacked and the 2014 Lok Sabha polls were rigged, a political controversy erupted over the issue on Tuesday with the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) exchanging barbs.

EVMs will be a key issue for the opposition parties during campaigning for the general election. The opposition has formed a four-member committee to look into EVM “manipulation", following the Kolkata rally that was attended by leaders of several opposition parties, and is likely to take it up with the Election Commission.

The poll panel, too, moved in swiftly on the controversy, writing a note to Delhi Police seeking an FIR and a prompt investigation against the self-proclaimed cyber expert, who had identified himself as Syed Shuja.

The Election Commission’s technical expert committee (TEC) reiterated its stand that EVMs are foolproof. “All versions of EC-EVMs are regularly and rigorously tested against low to high wireless frequencies. These tests include and go beyond the standard tests specified for electronic equipment," a poll panel press note said.

At an event in London, Shuja had claimed to have worked with the Electronics Corp of India Ltd (ECIL) between 2009 and 2014, besides being part of the team that designed the EVMs used for the 2014 elections. However, ECIL on Tuesday ruled out both claims. “It is certified from the records of ECIL that Syed Shuja has neither been on the rolls of ECIL as a regular employee nor was he in any way associated in the design and deployment of EVMs in ECIL produced during 2009-2014," it said in a press note.

The issue gathered steam with opposition parties, including the Congress, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) questioning the use of EVMs. The BJP countered the allegations, saying it was a “Congress-sponsored conspiracy" and questioned the presence of former Union minister Kapil Sibal at the London event.

“What was Sibal doing there? In what capacity was he present? My charge is that he was there to monitor the event for the Congress. It was a Congress-sponsored conspiracy designed to defame Indian democracy and its Election Commission," Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

Sibal said that he went there on a personal invite, but added that Shuja’s claims should be probed. “A minister has made some statements which are irresponsible and not befitting the statement of the office he holds," Sibal said, referring to Prasad.

“I have to just say that in the last 2-3 years almost all opposition parties have expressed doubts on EVMs.... The EC should ensure that at least 50% of VVPATs (voter verifiable paper audit trail) should be checked randomly," former Union minister Anand Sharma said.

In the last two years, opposition parties have often raised doubts over the credibility of voting machines. In July 2017, the election commission challenged seven national and 49 state parties on hacking of EVMs, but did not get any response. On Tuesday, BSP chief Mayawati demanded a return to the ballot paper.

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