OP Rawat: Fake news affects voting behaviour in a big way
In candid chat, the outgoing Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Om Prakash Rawat (OP Rawat), said that the Commission is working on a robust mechanism for conduct on social media platforms and have interacted with Google and WhatsApp regarding the same. He also mentioned that the panel has created a constituency for the EVMs, with elections in Tripura and other States setting at rest doubts.
OP Rawat said that one of the most important reforms pertain to the media, including social media. He pointed out that fake news affects voting behaviour in a big way and right now, the only mechanism is Section 126 and EC instructions on paid news. “We have to bring in a robust mechanism for conduct on social media platforms, which we are working on. We have already interacted with organisations like Google and WhatsApp. The EC will take a call on all those discussions,” he further added.
While expressing his concern, he said that the biggest challenge as CEC was back-to-back elections throughout the year and it is almost getting resolved.
OP Rawat added, “I took over in the midst of Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland polls. All those elections were very sensitive, because of issues like the terrain and underground cadres. But, that went off very well. In fact, in Tripura, one major issue was the doubt on electronic voting machines raised by a political party. They felt that for the past five elections, the same machines were used and the CPI(M) got a majority and therefore, they should be changed. The Commission turned down the demand. The machines were changed in Meghalaya and Nagaland, but not in Tripura. When the result came, they realised that there was no problem with EVMs, as this time they won the polls. Then in Karnataka, one major party was demanding ballot papers. Then, we launched a massive public awareness campaign on EVM and VVPATs [Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail]. We created a constituency for EVMs. That has been followed by the elections in five States.”
When he was probed whether has has any regrets regarding his tenure as CEC, to this he said, “I wanted to focus on putting up a revised legal framework, involving social media, abuse of money and other emerging threats. Such threats didn’t exist when our laws were framed. Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act [which bars election related publicity in the last 48 hours leading to voting] only talks about television or cinematograph. Now television and cinematograph is on your mobile, there are also social media platforms. I wanted that to be reviewed and realigned to the emerging and futuristic needs. We constituted a committee which submitted recommendations.”
He also added, “As this year has been full of elections, we have not been able to devote time to go through them and finalise our suggestions to the Union Law Ministry. It seems my successor CEC may also not find time due to the Lok Sabha elections.”