Geopolitical Notes From India | M D Nalapat
ELECTRONIC voting machines (EVMs) are geared towards generating results much faster than paper ballots, yet in India, election results get released days and sometimes weeks after polling. In contrast, the United States voter usually knows within hours of the close of polling as to which candidate is the winner. During the November 8,2016 Presidential elections, assuming Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton got some sleep that night, by morning it was evident that the Democratic nominee had lost. Despite having worked for the prize for nine years before 2016, Hillary Clinton lost the nomination to Barack Obama and the election to Donald Trump.
The US election system is complex, with several millions of ballots having to be counted, and yet results are declared within hours. Why EVMs are transported to sundry locations and thereafter stored for considerable periods of time in other places is another of the myriad administrative procedures extant in India that make no sense to the rational mind. Add to this the assumption by the Election Commission of India (EC) that the average voter is the most impressionable human being on the planet, and it will be understood why elections to the state assembly have taken place in Himachal Pradesh (HP) some weeks ago, but the results will be declared only on December 18, together with the Gujarat results.
The Election Commission believes that the declaration of results for HP would so influence the mind of voters in Gujarat as to somehow gravely affect the result. The fact is that election campaigns in a democracy are meant to influence minds rather than put people to sleep (as they would, if each of the EC’s many formal and advisory regulations concerning the conduct of campaigning were to get carried out not only in letter but in spirit. The EC has not explained the expert psychiatrists and psychologists it would have consulted to determine that voters in Gujarat would be so powerfully affected by election results in Himachal Pradesh as to suddenly swerve from the preferences they would have held earlier. Commonsense indicates that the voter can be trusted to digest information about other poll battles and yet calmly exercise her or his franchise. But commonsense is not a favoured virtue within the dovecotes of bureaucracy, where colonial-era perceptions about the population co-exist with colonial-era laws, practices and procedures. The Constitution of India mandates that the country should be socialist. Every leader swears by Mahatma Gandhi. Even the present Prime Minister, Narendra Damodardas Modi, is a fervent admirer of the leader from Porbander, making it a point to pay homage to a statue of the Mahatma if he finds one in any country he visits. Mahatma Gandhi lived a very simple life, whether it be his diet (squashed vegetables and occasionally coarse cereal) or his places of stay, which were often huts in the poorer parts of the city he was visiting. In contrast, ministerial bungalows in Lutyens Delhi that are occupied by the successors to the British colonial masters are the same as were the official residences of the “sahibs” whose era was thought to have ended on August 15, 1947. Googling “Nalapat Saraph” may reveal the extensive research carried out by Dr Anupam Saraph and this columnist on the subject of election fraud through tampering with electronic voting machines. Even if the machine shows on a screen the party the voter chose in the booth, that is not fail-safe, as it is possible to still introduce trojans that ensure (for example) that every other vote for a particular party (or every fifth vote) gets transferred to another party.
The only reliable method is to ensure a paper receipt for each vote, that can latter be tallied in case of doubt about the results. Although corruption is not unknown within the higher bureaucracy, it has traditionally been assumed that the bureaucrats manning the Election Commission of India are not just honest but masters of such technical subjects as the inner workings of electronic voting machines (EVMs). The EC has time and again assured the populace that EVMs are tamper-proof and that the lengthy period between casting ballots and knowing the result does not in any way vitiate the tally of votes cast by electors in each poll. That is fortunate, for in states with a high degree of literacy and awareness such as Gujarat, any result other than that reflecting the will of the people would generate a storm of protest, the way Z A Bhutto’s victory in the 1977 polls created an upwelling of anger that cleared way for Chief of Army Staff General Zia ul-Haq to remove Prime Minister of Pakistan from office.
Largely because of a decline in the rate of growth and the consequent public disquiet that this has caused, the Congress Party senses the chance for a comeback victory in a state that has been the fief of the BJP for two decades. However, the party in power in both the centre as well as in the state has a powerful weapon in the form of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is still far and away the most popular politician yet in the country, with many more people being counted among his ardent admirers than those who strongly oppose him. These perceptions will make a difference in the polls, as the BJP will need to ensure that its supporters feel sufficiently enthused to go out and vote rather than remain at home, especially because those against the Prime Minister seem motivated enough to cast their ballots in large numbers. Even if the BJP has a natural majority in the state, that would not be an effective majority unless the level of participation in polling of its supporters is as high as that of backers of the Congress Party.
Winning Gujarat is essential for Prime Minister Modi, to ensure that his party remains on the front foot for the 2019 national polls. But even a good showing (although short of a majority) by the Congress Party would be seen as a plus for Brand Rahul. However, the incoming President of the Congress Party will need to retain power in Karnataka state elections early next year, to prove that the Congress Party under his leadership can stop the Modi juggernaut in a manner that Rahul’s mother Sonia Gandhi failed to achieve. Gujarat and Karnataka are two state elections that are of overwhelming importance for both Prime Minister Modi as well as his prime challenger, incoming Congress President Rahul Gandhi.