NEW DELHI: The Congress on Monday distanced itself from the London press conference wherein a self-proclaimed Indian cyber expert claimed electronic voting machines (EVMs) can be hacked and the 2014 parliamentary election was "rigged", and demanded an investigation into the allegations.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said party leader Kapil Sibal was invited by a journalist and he did not represent the Congress party at the press conference, held under the aegis of the Indian Journalists' Association (Europe).
He said the Congress and other parties want that there should be a system in place to check 50 per cent of voter-verifiable paper audit trails (VVPAT) to reassure the country on the infallibility of electronic voting machines.
"The charges made are very serious. I cannot vouch for them or deny them, as they have not been investigated. But they certainly need investigation. These should be looked into with an open mind by the Election Commission," he told reporters.
On the BJP's charge about the involvement of the Congress in organising the event as it was attended by Sibal, Singhvi said, "Obviously, the Congress party had nothing to do with organising the press conference and does not know the principal actors and has no role to play."
He said Sibal has himself clarified that a journalist had invited him and he went, "but he was certainly not claiming to be representing the Congress party".
"But, I think this approach of shooting the messenger without looking at the message must change. And that is the sum and substance," he told reporters.
"Which is why the only demand in the short-time that is available before the 2019 elections is that now you have. A 50 per cent sample check (of VVPAT) to at least give a great reassurance of faith."
"It will at best mean a little delay in the results. Is a little delay better than a grave doubt on democracy itself. This touches on the core of our democracy. So why can't we have a 50 per cent sample check," he said.
Singhvi said even before the London presser, all opposition political parties are extremely concerned about EVMs and "although in theory, we would like to revert to the physical paper ballot, we understand that the time is too short to switch wholescale to physical paper ballot".
He said both in Kolkata and in Delhi, leaders have repeatedly asserted that there should be at least the use of 100 per cent mandatory VVPAT.
"What is the use of having 100 per cent mandated VVPAT paper trail in all machines, and use only one or three per cent sample check."
"All that we are saying is in view of the paucity of time in elections, have at least a 50 per cent sample check to reassure the public," he said.
Addressing the press conference in London via Skype, the self-proclaimed US-based Indian cyber expert, identified as Syed Shuja, said he fled India in 2014 because he felt threatened in the country after the killing of some of his team members.
Shuja, who said he is seeking political asylum in the US, claimed the telecom giant Reliance Jio helped the BJP to get low-frequency signals to hack the EVMs.
He provided no proof to back up his claim.
The outlandish and explosive claims, made in a cloak and dagger manner, could not be immediately confirmed.
He claimed he was part of a team at the public sector Electronic Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL), which designed and developed EVMs.
Although he appeared on screen through Skype, his face was masked.
In New Delhi, the Election Commission asserted that it firmly stands by the 'foolproof nature' of its machines even as it said it is examining as to what legal action "can and should" be taken in the matter.
In a statement released in New Delhi, the poll panel said whereas it is "wary of becoming a party to this motivated slugfest", it firmly stands by the "empirical facts about foolproof nature of ECI EVMs" used in elections in India.
The ECI reiterated that the EVMs used by it are manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), both state-owned, under "very strict" supervisory and security conditions.
It said there are rigorous standard operating procedures "meticulously observed" at all stages under the supervision of a committee of technical experts constituted in 2010.