MUMBAI: Raising alarm over EVMs ahead of the Maharashtra Assembly polls, key opposition parties on Friday pitched for reverting to the use of ballot papers and announced a protest march on August 21 over the issue.
A clutch of opposition leaders, key among them state Congress chief Balasaheb Thorat, MNS president Raj Thackeray and NCP's Ajit Pawar, held a joint press conference here over the EVM issue.
They termed the April-May Lok Sabha polls results as "shocking" as they expressed concern over the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in unison.
Speaking in Wardha, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis asked opposition parties to "introspect" why they have lost the people's trust instead of finding fault with EVMs.
Seeking to develop a groundswell on the issue, the opposition leaders said they would reach out to the people and get filled forms, saying they want ballot papers back.
Thackeray also stated that the BJP and the Shiv Sena, too, should join the August 21 march, which he added, will not have flag of any particular party.
The BJP had swept the Lok Sabha polls held in April- May this year, winning 303 seats.
In Maharashtra, the BJP won 23 seats, while its ally Shiv Sena bagged 18 out of the total 48 in the state.
The Congress won 52 Lok Sabha seats across the country, including one in Maharashtra.
The Sharad Pawar-led NCP emerged victorious in 5 seats, including 4 in the state.
"Doubts are being raised over the use of EVMs. Such things should not happen in a democracy. Various parties and organisations have expressed concerns over the use of the machines," Pawar told reporters here.
"We urge the people to flag the demand of holding the election using ballot papers," Pawar, a former minister, said.
"People have doubts about EVMs, VVPAT as the elections are nearing. We do not distrust anyone, but the elections must be held in a transparent manner," Pawar said.
Thackeray, who has been at the forefront of the anti- EVM campaign by political parties, said the Lok Sabha poll results had "shocked all -- those who won and lost".
"People in the US had raised suspicions over Donald Trump's election as the President of that country. The chips installed in the EVMs used here come from the US. Using ballot papers will instill trust among people on the poll process," Thackeray said as he favoured doing away with the use of EVMs.
Thackeray, who campaigned against the BJP though his party did not contest the Lok Sabha polls, said all the opposition parties would reach out to the people getting filled forms, saying they want to revert to ballot papers.
"These forms will be submitted to the poll panel on August 21," he added.
Asked about the BJP pointing towards its loss in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in the 2018 Assembly polls despite the use of EVMs as it counterd the opposition's machine-related allegations, Thackeray accused the ruling part of "creating an illusion".
Thackeray alleged the BJP's target was to retain power at the Centre and not in these states.
"So, all these things (poll results in the three states) were only for the satisfaction of you all," he said, suggesting the BJP lost the polls in the three states to deflate the opposition's criticism of the machines.
On Fadnavis asking the opposition to "introspect" its defeat instead of finding faults with the EVMs, Thackeray said, "I think the one who has been installed on a seat (of the chief minister) should not speak much."
The MNS chief also questioned what was the harm in resorting to the use of ballot papers "if the ruling party feels it can win 220 or even 250 seats".
Asked about media reports that the Enforcement Directorate might summon him, Thackeray, a bitter critic of the ruling BJP, said, "It doesn't make any difference to me. I have read the news only through the media. They haven't come to my home to say hello."
On his part, Thorat said it is the demand of the people that the elections be held using ballot papers.
"And when people have doubts in their minds, it is the responsibility of the Election Commission and also the government to clear those doubts," Thorat said.
Senior NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal, PWP leader Jayant Patil, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana's Raju Shetti and CPI's Prakash Reddy, among others, also addressed the press.
The Assembly polls are due in September-October.
On Thursday, Maharashtra Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Baldev Singh said EVMs are technically "very secure" and can never record a false vote.
He said these machines have a very robust security protocol and they can't be tampered with or manipulated.