Syed Shuja of Hyderabad, claiming to be a cyber expert and a former employee of the Electronic Corporation of India Ltd on Monday made a series of unsubstantiated allegations about the vulnerability of electronic voting machines used in India, including in the 2014 general election.
Syed Shuja appeared at a news conference through Skype. He said he was based in the United States, where he got political asylum after fleeing India due to threats to his life and allegedly in a serious medical condition in 2014.
According to Shuja, who said he also went by other names, 200 seats in the 2014 elections that would have been won by the Congress had been rigged in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party by manipulating data transmission through what he called ‘military-grade modulators’ installed in various parts of the country.
The event, organized by the Indian Journalists Association and the Foreign Press Association, was supposed to witness a live demonstration of EVMs being hacked, but Shuja claimed he had been attacked recently, which explained his absence in London, and individuals who were to bring the EVMs from India had been bought off.
Shuja went on to allege that senior BJP leader and former Union minister Gopinath Munde had been murdered because he was about to expose the malpractice when he did not get what he wanted when the Narendra Modi government was formed. He also alleged that journalist Gauri Lankesh was killed because she was about to publish details of the EVMs being hacked.
The brunt of Shuja’s allegations was pointed at the BJP, but he claimed that he had been approached by various parties, including the Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, Samajwadi Party and regional parties had approached him to help hack EVMs during elections.
Present at the press conference was senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal, but he refused to comment on the claims made. IJA president Ashis Ray said he had invited leaders of all parties to attend the event, but only Sibal had turned up.
According to Shuja, he and his team prevented EVMs being hacked during the 2015 elections to the Delhi assembly, when AAP won a landslide majority. The recent elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana were also rigged through the EVMs, he alleged.
In Shuja’s perception, he and his team of unnamed individuals in India were trying to save democracy by intercepting transmissions and preventing EVMs being hacked. The team, he added, did not have money or resources, but were doing their best for the country.
Shuja further alleged that the Election Commission had been ‘100 per cent involved’ in the malpractice over the years. When the possibility of EVMs being hacked is raised, he said the commission invariably presents 14 prototypes that he and his team had built at ECIL. Those specific EVMs, he said, cannot be hacked by bluetooth or wi-fi.
Shuja’s status of being granted political asylum in the US could not be verified from the US embassy in London due to Monday being a holiday on Martin Luther King Day, as well as employees not being at work due to the government shutdown.
Responding to the allegations, the Election Commission in New Delhi rejected the “motivated slugfest” and warned of legal action. “It has come to the notice of Election Commission of India that an event claiming to demonstrate EVMs used by ECI can be tampered with, has been organised in London. Whereas, ECI has been wary of becoming a party to this motivated slugfest, ECI firmly stands by the empirical facts about fool proof nature of ECI EVMs deployed in elections in India,” the poll panel said in a statement.
Holding that these EVMs are manufactured in Bharat Electronics Limited and Electronics Corporation of India Limited “under very strict supervisory and security conditions and there are rigorous Standard Operating Procedures meticulously observed at all stages under the supervision of a Committee of eminent technical experts constituted way back in 2010,” it said that it was “being separately examined as to what legal action can and should be taken in the matter”.