A fresh row broke out between Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and the Election Commission on Saturday night with the poll panel issuing a notice to the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) President. Tension has been brewing between Naidu and the Election Commission with the former alleging that Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) could be tampered with. Naidu even questioned the Election Commission's independence and impartiality, demanding repolling in 618 booths in Andhra Pradesh. In the latest row, the poll panel has 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.
The person in question is Hari Krishna Prasad Vemuru, a security researcher who allegedly stole an EVM in 2010, to expose its security flaws. He was later arrested. However, he was awarded the Pioneer Award 2010 in the United States and later hired as Technology Advisor to the Andhra Pradesh government. He is widely believed to be the brains behind Naidu’s growing hostility towards the usage of EVMs for polling.
On Saturday afternoon, a delegation led by Naidu met the Election Commission to discuss poll-related issues, including those related to the functioning of EVMs. Following this, the legal cell of the TDP was served a notice.
In its notice, the poll panel said that during the meeting with a TDP delegation on Saturday, one of the delegates repeatedly raised the issues about EVMs, claiming that he had requisite technical expertise in the field and hence he could have a more detailed discussion with Deputy Election Commissioner Sudeep Jain, who is also in-charge of EVMs in the Commission.
“However, when this technical person came, it turned out that he was Hari Prasad who was involved in a criminal case regarding the alleged theft of an EVM machine in 2010, in which an FIR was also filed. Whatever may have been the eventual outcome of the investigation, it would be appreciated that such antecedents do not inspire confidence,” the notice read.
It added 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.
The poll panel said that while it was not found appropriate to have any interaction with Prasad, it invited the TDP to send another expert "who does not have similar antecedents", to interact with the Deputy Election Commissioner on Monday.
Earlier, after his meeting with Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, Naidu said that the EC has lost its credibility as "it functions on the instructions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his office".
In a late night letter to the EC, TDP Rajya Sabha MP and President of the party’s legal cell, Ravindra Kumar, defended Hari Prasad and pointed out that no charge sheet had been filed in the case even after nine years.
“Instead of focusing on the issue, the Commission is trying to avoid addressing the situation. Hence, I request you to direct the technical committee to comprehend, clarify and resolve the issues raised by Hari Prasad on our behalf. We express our strong reservation about your approach towards our the technology advisor,” Ravindra Kumar’s letter said.
Meanwhile, Hari Prasad took to Twitter, stating, “(I) felt really insulted when they say I am an accused in EVM case while the whole world knows why I showed the EVM hack on TV and was subsequently been honoured by the international community ‘EFF’ with their prestigious Pioneer award of 2010. It’s time to fight for democracy again.”
Felt really insulted when they say I am an accused in EVM case while the whole world know why I showed EVM hack on TV and subsequently been honored by international community ‘EFF’ with their prestigious Pioneer award of 2010. Its time to fight back for Democracy again.— Hari Krishna Prasad Vemuru (@vhkprasad) April 13, 2019