In the early hours of August 21, 2010, Hari Krishna Prasad Vemuru was shown on all TV channels, after he was arrested for allegedly stealing an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) from the Election Commission of India (ECI). Hari Prasad emerged yet again last week, but this time as a key figure in the escalating row between Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and the ECI.
Naidu questioned the EC's independence and impartiality and demanded repolling in 618 booths in Andhra Pradesh during his meeting with senior EC officials in New Delhi on Saturday. In response, the poll panel asked Naidu how he allowed a person accused of stealing an EVM to be part of the delegation that knocked on its doors to discuss election issues.
But who is Hari Prasad?
According to reports, Hari was the managing director of a technology solutions firm based in Hyderabad, called NetIndia Pvt Ltd. In 2010, he had extensively spoken about EVMs and claimed that they could be hacked.
In an interview to The Quint in February this year, he said, “Somebody called me up, who was part of the Election Commission and said, ‘I want to get you a machine as you’re claiming that you can hack the machine. Will you be able to do it if we give you an original machine?’ We said yes. We were so excited. In that, we demonstrated two of the loopholes. (sic)”
Hari said that one loophole is the ability to ‘attack’ the display unit, which shows who the vote was cast for; and the second is the ability to manipulate the memory and simply change the number of votes that each party polled per machine.
“We did the attack, but we didn’t keep silent. We wrote a paper on that and released it. After that, I went to news channel TV9 and presented the video. We showed the video,” he added.
Hari claimed that he also displayed the number of the EVM’s control unit, as the EC claimed that it was a lookalike machine.
While Hari claimed that the machine was sent back to wherever it came from, the EC at the time filed a complaint of theft, accusing Hari of stealing a machine. He was arrested in August 2010 and released on bail eight days later. The court observed that the case of theft doesn’t stand legal scrutiny as there was no "dishonest intention" behind the move.
That same year, he was also awarded the Pioneer Award 2010 in the United States by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
Hari Prasad’s proximity to Naidu
Hari has been a long-time confidant of Naidu and the Telugu Desam Party and after bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, Hari was hired as Technology Advisor to the Andhra Pradesh government. He also plays a key role in the functioning of the state’s Real Time Governance (RTG) department.
He is also widely believed to have influenced Naidu’s growing hostility towards the usage of EVMs for polling.
Even as Hari Prasad claims that he is only demanding more transparency and accountability from the EC, the poll panel is visibly upset.
In its latest notice to the TDP, the EC said that it was "completely intriguing as to how a so-called technical expert with these criminal antecedents was allowed to be a part of the delegation" led by Naidu.
“Whatever may have been the eventual outcome of the investigation, it would be appreciated that such antecedents do not inspire confidence,” the notice read.