Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat, who is retiring next month, dismissed opposition's charge that electronic voting machines or EVMs are vulnerable to tampering. In an exclusive interview with NDTV, Mr Rawat said political parties only question EVMs when they lose elections. He also said that the poll body was always "non-partisan, impartial and objective".
"You can't stop people from raising issues. You only have to ensure if there is any substance in any issue raised, you have to address it comprehensively, squarely," Mr Rawat said on allegations of EVM tampering.
"Generally, this has been the trend. When they win, they don't give credit to EVMs, but when they lose they all blame the EVMs," Mr Rawat said, adding that EVMs and Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) are tamper-proof.
Looking back at his tenure as election commissioner and then the chief of the poll body, Mr Rawat said he had only one regret. "Whatever I thought while joining in 2015, I was able to do to my satisfaction. I have only one regret. Seeing many assembly elections, I realized we have to review our laws to align those provisions according to the emerging needs of the electoral arena," he said.
He said the committee constituted to review the laws didn't get enough time. "The Election Commission constituted committee of officers to review the Representation of People Act and related rules. They have done their exercise. But the Election Commission didn't get time to study it comprehensively and make suggestions to the law ministry for making changes," Mr Rawat added.
Mr Rawat didn't agree with the perception that the central government was developing cold feet as to ushering electoral reforms. He said reforms were a continuous process and some decisions were taken swiftly. "They (government) are key players in the electoral process and they have to keep all factors in view before implementing any such reform," he said.
On whether the poll body is taking any action over reports of data theft on social media, Mr Rawat said: "The Election Commission discussed it with social media platforms and put in place some arrangements for campaign period and last 48 hours after polling. Those arrangements were tested in Karnataka polls and worked very well. Now these are being tested for the 5 poll-bound states." He said a comprehensive social media strategy would be made for the Lok Sabha elections due next year.
Mr Rawat called the perception that election commissioners appointed by the ruling government tow its line "wrong". "The Supreme Court has also observed that successive governments have appointed commissioners who have conducted themselves in non-partisan manner and objectively," he said.
"If officers are selected through a transparent system, it will be great, but you can't say that anything which is done according to rules or law will not have any loopholes and will not have anybody who proves the whole selection process wrong," he added.
Mr Rawat said Jammu and Kashmir election will have to be held within 6 months. "There are many factors like the climate, law and order, which is one of the major issues. All these things have to be kept in mind before scheduling elections in the state," he said.
OP Rawat served as the Election Commissioner for three years. He also served as the chief of the poll body for around 10 months. He will retire on December 1.
Sunil Arora will be the new Chief Election Commissioner. He will take over from Mr Rawat on December 2. A former bureaucrat, Mr Arora, 62, had served as the Information and Broadcasting Secretary, and Secretary in the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship.