The result of the April-May 2009 General Elections to the 15th Lok Sabha has proved that Indian psephologists and media pundits on Indian politics, particularly from the electronic media, are worse than astrologers. But like astrologers even after they err they righteously peddle their wrongs as rights, and d keep the viewers in their shibboleth. As this is an integral part of their disingenuous commercial and survival strategy, the less said, the better.
There have been complaints about election rigging. As this is nothing new, India has not had violence and mayhem as Iran witnessed recently. All the same the complaints cannot be taken lightly.
In an Op-Ed "Dangers of trusting them too much" in The New Indian Express of 29 May 2009, reproduced with minor modifications as another Op-Ed "Are electronic voting machines tamper-proof?" in The Hindu of 17 June 2009, Subramanian Swamy wrote:
Is there a possibility of rigging electoral outcomes in a general election to the Lok Sabha? This question has arisen not only because of the unexpected number of seats won or lost by some parties in the recent contest. It is accentuated by the recent spate of articles published in reputed computer engineering journals and in the popular international press, which raise doubts about the integrity of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).
Why are the EVMs so vulnerable? Swamy's explanation is important:
Each step in the life cycle of a voting machine from the time it is developed and installed to when the votes are recorded and the data transferred to a central repository for tallying involves different people gaining access to the machines, often installing new software. It wouldn't be hard for, say, an election official to paint a parallel programme under another password on one or many voting machines that would, before voters arrived at the poll stations, ensure a pre-determined outcome.
Swamy's article is of huge political relevance in India, as evident from his own claims:
The Election Commission of India has known of these dangers since 2000. Dr M. S. Gill, the then CEC, had arranged at my initiative for Professor Sanjay Sarma, the father of RFID software fame at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and his wife Dr Gitanjali Swamy of Harvard, to demonstrate how unsafeguarded the chips in EVMs were. Some changes in procedure were made subsequently by the EC. But the fundamental flaws, which made them compliant to hacking, remained.
In 2004, the Supreme Court's First Bench, comprising Chief Justice V. N. Khare and Justices Babu and Kapadia, directed the Election Commission to consider the technical flaws in EVMs put forward by Satinath Choudhary, a U.S.-based software engineer, in a PIL. But the EC has failed to consider his representation.
Now several High Courts are hearing PILs on the EVMs. This is good news. I believe the time has arrived for the Supreme Court to transfer these cases to itself, and take a long, hard look at these riggable machines that favour a ruling party that can ensure a pliant Election Commission. Else, elections will soon lose their credibility and the demise of democracy will be near. Hence evidence must now be collected by all political parties to determine the number of constituencies in which they suspect rigging. The number will not exceed 75, in my opinion. We can identify them as follows: any 2009 general election result in which the main losing candidate of a recognised party found that more than 10 per cent of the polling booths showed fewer than five votes per booth should be taken, prima facie, as a constituency in which rigging took place. This is because the main recognised parties usually have more than five party workers per booth, and hence with their families will poll a minimum of 25 votes per booth for their party candidate. If these 25 voters can give affidavits affirming who they voted for, the High Court can treat this as evidence and order a full inquiry.
If the cases are transferred to the Supreme Court, in adjudicating them time is the essence. If the court deals with them in its usual lackadaisical style Swamy's prophesy of doom, that is, elections soon losing their credibility and the demise of democracy will be near, may turn out to be a reality.
Apart from the question of the reliability of the EVM, in several places there were attempts amounting to large-scale riggings by blatant bribing of the electorate (A 500 rupees note with each election coupon, as the DMK did in Tamil Nadu, which might have happened in other states well; free distribution of sarees, free flow of liquor, and so on). When the other sordid and unsavory issues mentioned in the column last week are added to this, we get a murky scenario somewhat similar to that in Iran. If we have not taken to streets and violence it may be because our commitment to democracy and good governance is only skin-deep.
Having said the above, as "innocent till proven guilty" is the principle of democratic countries, till any legal miracle happens, with or without the conjurer's hat of Swamy, the Congress and its allies in the UPA should be given the benefit of doubt and their victory should not be seen as Pyrrhic.
Viewed thus, do we see anything positive in the new ministry at the Centre? The answer is yes and no. Yes, because with 206 MPs, Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, is much less hamstrung than in the preceding five years; can work with more ease, confidence, and lead his Cabinet from the front which he probably did not do in his last avatar as Prime Minister.
That apart, on the positive side, he has managed to have a reasonably committed and well-informed team. They may be Congress (read Sonia) sycophants; yet they are capable of doing their work without succumbing to the lure of lucre, which in any case, some of them have aplenty.
Arjun Singh as HRD minister was a millstone round Manmohan Singh's neck. He has already caused a lot of damage to India's education system, by dabbling in reservation politics, dividing India's youth, turning education into commerce and greed, and so on. Kapil Sibal, known for his integrity, no-nonsense approach to issues that too with a sense of humour -, and commitment to turning India into a knowledge society, should first clean up the Augean Stables of the HRD ministry, address the issue of corruption and sleaze in the education sector, review the merit and working of the reservation system, working of the entire UGC set up, and ensure access to quality education to every desirable youth in the country. For doing this he should see education as a continuum from primary to the higher a ladder from the gutter to the University.
Some of the politicians and sections of the media have attributed the unexpected electoral gains of the UPA to the loan waiver in the agricultural sector and NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). The offer of loan waiver was wise more in the nature of being wise after the event, a sort of crisis management after avoidable tragedies, namely, farmers' suicide, and is not a solution to the root cause of the agrarian criss. The concerned minister should now think in terms of land or agrarian reforms and regulate the role of MNCs in the agrarian sector., so as to prevent farmers getting into debt traps rather than compensating for their suicide. The NREGA, though touted as the flagship programme of the UPFA, is still at the level of tokenism, fraught with corruption and red tape and is more part of the survivalo strategy of the poor than real a development activity. Its working also need to be reviewed and modified.
In the Presidential address to both Houses of Parliament, Pratibha Patil had indicated the agenda for the first 100 days of the UPA. What she said is not gospel; and there is nothing sacrosant about the first "100 days". It is part of the ritual of any Presidential address. But inclusionof the Women's Reservation Bill in it is a red herring.
While that needs separate discussion, if the UPA ministry has to remain clean, deliver good and corruption-free governance, it should do away with politics of accommodation or rather politics of arm-twisting and exploitation as the DMK President, Karunanidhi has been doing so unabashedly, to whose pressures the UPA has succumbed. This has been a major negative and nagging aspect of the UPA ministry.
One possibility to overcfome this is reviewing the DMK ministers' work for the 100 days, yes, the first 100 days of the Presidential address, dump them if they are found lacking in national perspective or competence, and punish them if they are really "tainted".
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