September 2, 2010
A version of this appeared on rediff.com in two parts on Sep 1 and Sep 2, 2001.
The real issue with Electronic Voting Machines
Rajeev Srinivasan on how EVM problems are much bigger than technology or politics
I have been doubtful about electronic voting machines for quite some time based on what one might call a healthy engineering skepticism. To put it bluntly, I don’t trust computers. This comes from, at a point in the past, working with operating system innards and security. Since operating systems are the software that we implicitly trust to run most mission-critical systems, I have noticed that we are basically just one or two bugs away from disaster.
Even though there are rules of thumb and safety factors in software development just as there are in other engineering disciplines, software is still an art, not a science. And even the more mature engineering areas, much closer to science, like civil engineering, are still not perfect – the occasional bridge does collapse, albeit rarely.
Therefore the touching faith we repose in computers – and this is especially true in India – is misplaced. It would be a really bad idea to not have a backup mechanism that is not computer-based, especially when we are talking about embedded systems, the relatively primitive machines that run all sorts of devices such as refrigerators, microwaves, ATMs, etc. This, of course, was the rationale behind the famous Y2K panic, as people worried about whether planes would fall out of the sky as the result of an obscure software practice – years were coded in two digits, not four (ie. 48, not 1948).
Looked at from first principles, then, Electronic Voting Machines are inherently not the most reliable systems available. Nevertheless, they have undisputable advantages: for one, it is not possible to do physical ‘booth-capturing’. Besides, votes are converted into digital impulses that can be manipulated easily, so that all sorts of things can be done with them – counting can be lightning-fast; and statistical data collection, analysis, data mining, and so on can all be done with great facility.
Unfortunately, that strength is also, ironically, the Achilles heel of EVMs. Since there is no physical audit trail of the vote, once you have cast your vote, you cannot verify that your choice of candidate has been honored. It is a relatively minor task for a software-savvy criminal to fix an election, with nobody being the wiser.
I made a primitive demonstration of this sort of activity when I ran an Internet poll on my blog about who India’s best prime minister was. 300 people voted, and there was a clear winner, and some others got very few votes. But I found that if I took the real results, and applied a simple algorithm to it: that is, such as diverting 1/3rd of each person’s votes to a third candidate, I could at will have anybody ‘win’, even someone who got just 1 vote. And the pattern of votes ‘gained’ did not look particularly suspicious.
Furthermore, in an eerie reminder of the way real electronic voting works, even after the poll ‘closed’ with 292 votes, it still accepted 8 more votes. I have no idea how or why it did that, and since I do not have the source code, there is no way I could figure it out, either. That is another important problem – unless third parties are able to verify beyond reasonable doubt that the system is trustworthy, in effect the system is completely untrustworthy.
There is one major aspect – the human factor. Related to it is a process issue – what are the checks and balances to ensure that human error or malfeasance will not have catastrophic effects? In many critical systems, we have evolved elaborate fail-safe mechanisms that ensure it takes the co-operation of several individuals believed to be highly reliable. There are ways of vetting people to ensure that deserve the highest level of trust – this is the theory behind security clearances for access to sensitive information, and so we have people with TOP SECRET clearances whom we trust with extremely confidential information and the ability to perform critical acts.
We have seen in innumerable Hollywood films (for instance “The Hunt for Red October”) how the order to launch American nuclear missiles from a submarine has to be authorized independently by two very competent people, who each carry one of the keys needed. If they do not agree, the missile is not launched. Even in a more mundane setting, the safe deposit box in India, typically a bank manager and the customer each has to insert their keys simultaneously for the locker to open.
Thus, technical systems, human factors, and process issues need to work in perfect synchronicity for a complex system to work in ways that are provably correct.
Now let us move from the abstract to the concrete. How do electronic voting machines do on some basic measures of correctness of technology, human factors and processes? The track record, alas, is not that great. In 2009, I did a survey of the literature: EVMs had been found severely wanting in case after case, and several counties had ceased to use them. I am sure there is more information since about a year ago, but here is an excerpt from my essay which was published in “New Perspectives Monthly”:
- United States (data from www.electionfraud2004.org and others as indicated):
o In April 2004, California banned 14,000 EVMs because the manufacturer (Diebold Election Systems) had installed uncertified software that had never been tested, and then lied to state officials about the machines. The machines were decertified and criminal prosecution initiated against the manufacturer.
o In the 2004 Presidential elections, in Gahanna, Ohio, where only 638 votes were cast, Bush received 4,258 votes to Kerry’s 260
o A study by UC Berkeley’s Quantitative Methods Research Team reported that irregularities associated with EVMs may have awarded 130,000 – 260,000 votes to Bush in Florida in 2004
o There have at least the following bills in the US legislature, all of which were the result of perceived problems with EVMs. (It is not known if any of them has passed; HR = House of Representatives, the lower house, and S = Senate, the upper house):
§ HR 550: Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2005
§ HR 774 and S 330: Voting Integrity and Verification Act of 2005
§ HR 939 and S 450: Count Every Vote Act of 2005
§ HR 533 and S 17: Voting Opportunity and Technology Enhancement Rights Act of 2005
§ HR 278: Know your Vote Counts Act of 2005
§ HR 5036: Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008
o In 2006, a team of Princeton University computer scientists studied Diebold Election Systems EVMs, and concluded that it was insecure and could be “installed with vote-stealing software in under a minute”, and that the machines could transmit viruses from one to another during normal pre- and post-election activity. Diebold, now Premier Election Systems, is the largest US manufacturer of EVMs
o In 2006, computer scientists from Stanford University, the University of Iowa and IBM suggested that Diebold had “included a ‘back door’ in its software, allowing anyone to change or modify the software… A malicious individual with access to the voting machine could rig the software without being detected”
- Germany (2009)
o The Federal Constitutional Court of Germany declared EVMs unconstitutional
- The Netherlands (2006)
o The ministry of the interior withdrew the licenses of 1187 voting machines because it was proven that one could eavesdrop on voting from up to 40 meters away. The suit was brought by a Dutch citizen’s group named “We Do Not Trust Voting Machines. This group demonstrated that in five minutes they could hack into the machines with neither voters nor election officials being aware of it.
- Finland (2009)
o The Supreme Court declared invalid the results of a pilot electronic vote in three municipalities.
- United Kingdom (2007)
o The Open Rights Group declared it could not express confidence in the results for the areas that it observed. Their report cites “problems with the procurement, planning, management and implementation of the systems concerned.”
- Ireland (2006)
o Ireland embarked on an ambitious e-voting scheme, but abandoned it due to public pressure
- Brazil (2006)
o There were serious discrepancies in the Diebold systems predominantly used in Brazil’s 2006 elections
Based on precedents elsewhere, it is hard to believe that Indian EVMs, alone, through some extraordinary luck or brilliant planning – do I detect shades of some ‘Indian exceptionalism’ from people who otherwise are rather unimpressed with India and Indians? – are immune to these problems.
In particular, the German criticism is telling. The German courts have struck EVMs down because they discovered that current EVMs do not allow a voter to be certain that his choice has been registered. This is a constitutional issue, because the will of the voter is considered sacrosanct in democracies. If there is reasonable doubt that the voter’s choice may not be reflected in the results emitted by the EVM, it violates the constitution. This is as true of India as it is of Germany. The wise thing would be to ban the use of EVMs until they can be proven to be constitutional, and the onus should be on the EVM manufacturers – which is precisely what the German Supreme Court did.
It is in this context that we need to see the recent arrest of an Indian EVM researcher, Hari Prasad, on August 21st. In the Indian case, things are slightly worse. Instead of challenging the EVM manufacturer to demonstrate that the machines are, in fact, trustworthy, the constitutional authority, the Election Commission of India (ECI), has acted as the spokesman of the EVM manufacturers. The ECI has claimed on several occasions that EVMs are “foolproof”, “perfect” and so on, as though this were self-evident.
Hari and fellow-researchers put together a proof-of-concept, wherein they demonstrated a hack on some other hardware. The EC, correctly, pointed that this was not on one of the Indian EVMs, and therefore not quite applicable. But when the researchers, reasonably, requested that the EC provide them with an actual EVM, it appears the EC refused, or insisted that they tamper with the EVM without actually touching them, a feat of magic which, alas, software developers are unable to pull off.
The EC has also emphasized over and over again how secure their systems and processes are, how the machines are sealed in high-security currency-quality paper, sealed with wax and kept under lock and key in warehouses all over the country in the custody of reliable officials.
Which is quite interesting, considering that the researchers got an EVM from one of the EC’s warehouses, and were able to hack it and demonstrate several ways of tampering with it, including the use of radio-aware chips that would enable a Bluetooth-based cellphone outside a booth to manipulate the machines. The vaunted process of the EC was, however, not even aware of the missing machine for several months! If was only by looking at the serial number on a videotape of the hacked machine that the EC identified which warehouse that EVM came from. This puts in doubt the physical security of the devices.
In any case, the fact that a gentleman named Telgi was allegedly able to copy high-security stamp paper to the tune of tens of thousands of crores, the fact that high-quality counterfeit Indian currency printed in Pakistan has been intercepted in containerloads, and the fact that an entire shipment of currency inks is ‘missing’, it is hard to feel comforted that paper-based measures would be entirely foolproof.
Computer scientists, especially those in the area of security, are not convinced, either. I listened carefully to the podcast of a session at the recent USENIX conference recently wherein two representatives of the ECI, Professor P V Indiresan, and Dr Alok Shukla, a deputy EC, squared off against GVLN Rao, an election forecaster, and Dr Alex Halderman, a computer science professor at the University of Michigan. The EC folks were bested in the discussions, which were attended by well-known security researchers.
I was disappointed to hear from Messrs Indiresan and Shukla that the foolproof measures that the EC is so proud of boil down to some kind of ‘security by obscurity’ – that is, a complex process that is expected to be harder to break into – and faith in a small number of software types at firms that the EC did not identify, and which may not even be Indian, and thus beyond the ken of Indian law.
There is a remarkable case study available on the Internet, about “Gunfire at Sea”, a chronicle of how the US Navy bureaucracy stonewalled and pooh-poohed a very interesting suggestion for improving the accuracy of naval guns, some time in the 19th century. I’m afraid that the EC’s reaction seemed much like the US Navy’s: bluster, misplaced confidence in their abilities, and a tendency to shoot the messenger.
Instead of lauding Hari Prasad as a well-intentioned white-hat researcher whose suggestions for improvement should have been welcomed with open arms by the EC, the latter seeks to demonize him, terrorize him, and book him so that they could worm from him the identity of the person who had passed on the EVM to him for research. This is counter-productive.
Thus, on several counts, including constitutionality, the reaction to whistleblowers, and the large-scale implications on the country’s democracy, this is a fascinating case, and the EC should redeem itself by working with these researchers. The next set of people who break into the EVMs may not be quite so well-intentioned. (In passing, there is the interesting parallel story that the American responsible for the recent WikiLeaks publication of 92,000 confidential documents has been accused of rape in Sweden, and then the charges were dropped; he claimed he had been warned the Pentagon was ‘after him’. Clearly, whistleblowers have to watch out these days.)
Very distressingly, there is another other pillar of society that did not distinguish itself in this whole EVM fracas. It is the media. So far as I can tell, the entire English-language media has chosen to bury this story: no anchor or editor is excited about it, although a few stray op-eds have been written. It has certainly received less attention than the hoo-haa over some Sri Lankan cricketer doing something unsportsmanlike. This is a serious dereliction of the media’s presumed duty as the watchdog of society. If an election is fixed, it is in essence a bloodless constitutional coup, and the media should be on the trail of this story like bloodhounds. The fact that the media is not doing so implies something serious about its integrity and ethics.
Thus, two of the independent institutions in India that should impose checks and balances on the executive have abdicated their responsibility. This is a cause for extreme concern; this is a sign of a State whose machinery is breaking down. And that is the crux of the matter in l’affaire EVM.
Usenix Panel Discussion on EVMs in India (audio podcast) https://www.dropbox.com/s/k0b2vib2mc1k6sy/indian-evm-panel-evtwote.mp3
Letter from Usenix Panel to the ECI, 12th August 2010, http://www.useRajeevnix.org/events/evtwote10/final-letter-eci.pdf
P V Indiresan, “Too much loose talk on EVMs”, The Hindu Business Line, 23rd August 2010, http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2010/08/23/stories/2010082350480800.htm
Devangshu Datta, “EVMs are tamper-proof, eh?”, Business Standard, 28th August 2010,
Sandeep B, “Democracy Imperiled”, The Pioneer, 26th August 2010, http://www.dailypioneer.com/278669/Democracy-imperilled.html
Video from IndiaEVM.org on several ways EVMs can be tampered with http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlCOj1dElDY
The researchers’ website indiaEVM.org
Rajeev Srinivasan, “Can Electronic Voting Machines subvert elections?”, September 2009, “Eternal India: A New Perspectives Monthly”, http://rajeev.posterous.com/can-electronic-voting-machines-subvert-electi
Elting E Morison, “Gunfire at Sea: A case study of innovation”, MIT, 1966, http://www.cs.gmu.edu/cne/pjd/TT/Sims/Sims.pdf
2600 words, 28th August 2010
May 12, 2010
A version of this appeared on rediff.com at http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/may/12/rajeev-srinivasan-on-why-india-is-so-full-of-charlatans.htm
Accountability, a four-letter word in India: Why India has so many charlatans
Rajeev Srinivasan on why the State must ensure that people will pay for the consequences of their actions, a concept that is sadly unknown in India
“Clawback” – now that is a term in the American financial jargon that must be giving sleepless nights to some of the ex-Masters of the Universe from the fearsome investment banks that have fallen on hard times. This refers to the literal clawing back of benefits gained by those who, in hindsight, turn out not to have deserved them.
For instance, there is a move afoot to seize the multimillion-dollar bonuses awarded to investment bankers while their firms were creating the financial meltdown with their cavalier use of collateralized debt obligations and credit-default swaps. Those who caused billions of dollars-worth of damage couldn’t possibly deserve their fat bonuses.
It is not clear whether proposals to regulate Wall Street will succeed, and whether any ill-gotten gains will actually be clawed back by the taxpayer (who ended up, of course, bailing out said firms). But the very fact that this is being considered is a deterrent to future hanky-panky. That is, people would have to factor in the possibility that their malfeasance will have consequences.
India is refreshingly free of such old-fashioned niceties. In India, there are no consequences to the worst behavior, provided, of course, that you have the right credentials – that you belong to certain privileged categories of people, which include media mavens, film stars, politicians, cricket players, et al.
It goes beyond a lack of concern about delivering results – it has become routine to be cynical; promises are mere expectations. Many contracts are not worth the paper they are written. It has become a national pathology, or national pastime if you prefer, to lie about what one will deliver: you too must be guilty of saying “Consider it done!” when you knew there was no way you were going to do it.
Most Indians work this into their calculations, but it baffles foreigners, thereby adding to the impression that Indians, like Chinese, are inscrutable – a euphemism for “unreliable”. This makes it difficult to do business, because what appears to be an iron-clad guarantee to the outsider is often really only a ‘best-efforts, god-willing’ type of weasel-wording to the Indian. And Indians are accustomed to there being no penalty for lack of performance.
This is seen in every walk of life. On the one hand are the lionized cricket-players who make absolute billions. One would expect that the cricket-consuming (I am tempted to say something about Lotos-Eaters, but shall desist) classes would demand top-notch performances from their stars; but alas, they routinely put in pathetic performances because they know there are no consequences – they will get their millions, win or lose.
I have suggested in the past that there should be some deterrents to poor performance: I understand in soccer-crazy Latin America a player who caused the national team to be eliminated from the World Cup was shot dead on return. The threat of physical harm – say the loss of a finger or two if you screw up badly – would energize team-members wonderfully. Well, if you are squeamish about that, the least one can do is – there again, that wonderful concept – ‘claw back’ their ill-gotten earnings!
Similarly, much has been written about the lavish lifestyles of cricket executives – who, not surprisingly, include a number of politicians. Why not set Income Tax on these folks and claw back the BMWs and private jets and other bling they have accumulated?
Well, perhaps the cricketers are minor villains in comparison to politicians. The naturally cynical voter, accustomed to lavish promises at campaign time, expects nothing to materialize. Experience suggests that this is wise. The elaborate ruses intended to ease rent-seeking are truly creative, a wonder to behold.
A good example is the ongoing saga of the 2G mobile telephony licenses. The circumstantial evidence is damning – an ‘auction’ which was first-come, first served, and also wherein the last date for bidding is arbitrarily shortened by one week without notice. The final ‘winners’ included several players who were totally innocent of any telecom experience before and after. But they were quick to turn around and sell their licenses to telecom companies at 10x profit.
Interestingly, there has been no talk of clawing back these obscene and undeserved profits. The Prime Minister, who is said to be honest and decent and an economist, has maintained a Sphinx-like silence. The latest I heard about this is a detailed memo from the Department of Telecommunications exonerating themselves and their minister from all blame – a ‘clean chit’ in quaint officialese. No penalty for anybody.
Then there is the matter of the nuclear ‘deal’ that India has entered into, after many promises of a wonderful energy future. This was the justification for acceding to many conditions, which, in my opinion, eviscerated India’s nuclear deterrent capability and did nothing more for its energy security than create dependence on uranium-mining nations.
Interestingly enough, Pakistan and China, bellicose nuclear neighbors, have just entered into a deal for which Pakistan did not have to make any concessions whatsoever. China is giving Pakistan two nuclear plants as well as missiles: which, to put it bluntly, is pure proliferation. The United States, which screams “non-proliferation!” whenever India is involved, was strangely silent. In other words, yet another scam has been perpetrated.
Is anybody losing his job, or are they being prosecuted, for misleading the Indian public and walking the country down the garden path? Of course not. Similarly, the country is suffering the worst inflation in decades, and the price of food items in particular have shot through the roof. Has anybody been punished? Of course not.
By not putting in place mechanisms to ensure there is punishment for sinning, India is creating the right environment for ‘moral hazard’. People will take unnecessary risks, secure in the knowledge that if they win, they keep the loot; if they lose, the taxpayer pays. No wonder India is so full of charlatans.
November 27, 2008
rediff published this with some fairly significant edits at http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/dec/08mumterror-are-we-heading-to-being-a-failed-state.htm — to some extent the piece was rendered toothless — and so here is the original copy I sent them.
Towards a failed State – Ghori, Jaichand and friends redux
Rajeev Srinivasan on the attack on Mumbai
The invasion of Mumbai by Pakistani terrorists – and undoubtedly local collaborators – is but a replay of times past: the periodic and predictable arrival of barbarians over the Khyber Pass, laying waste to the countryside, and wreaking untold damage on a long-suffering populace. The only crime that the average Indian committed was to focus on the creation of wealth; of course, the barbarians came because of the wealth. Today, once again, India is generating capital, and the intention is to thwart its economic rise.
Then, as now, the rulers failed the populace. There is an implicit contract between the rulers and the ruled: you pay the taxes, obey the rules, and we ensure that your life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are unhindered. India’s ruling class failed signally to honor this contract – they never did figure out that the simple expedient of defending the Khyber and Bolan passes would be enough to save the plains, because Nature had been kind enough to build the impregnable Himalayas all around India.
I have never got a satisfactory answer to the question as to why we didn’t build the Great Wall of India. The Chinese built a 1,500-mile wall; Indians could surely have built a 15-mile wall and kept the marauders out. But there was clearly a failure in leadership and in strategic thinking. Time after time, the barbarians would pour in through the passes, march to Panipat or Tarain, and there, in a desperate last-ditch battle, the Indians would lose, again and again. The result: disaster.
Furthermore, there were traitors in-house, too. They would collude with the invaders to the detriment of their fellow-Indians. Jaichand, during the Second Battle of Tarain in 1192 CE, turned the tide of the battle by allying with Mahmud of Ghori against Prithviraj Chauhan, with the result that Northern India suffered 700 years of Mohammedan tyranny – it was a clear tipping point. Or take the battle of Talikota that ended the magnificient Vijayanagar empire: it was their own troops that betrayed them.
Fast forward to today. India is under withering attack on all fronts. To the east, there is the demographic invasion by Bangladeshis, including unhindered infiltration by terrorist elements. The entire Northeast is in danger of secession, given both the narrow and hard-to-defend Chicken’s Neck that connects the area to the Gangetic plain, as well as the Christian fundamentalism and terrorism that is on the verge of turning into a move to secede on religious and ethnic grounds, a la East Timor.
The northern frontier is restive, with Nepal, a former ally and buffer state transformed into hostile territory, with its porous borders turned into a way of infiltrating Mohammedan terrorists and Communist terrorists into India, with the declared intent of capturing the “Pasupati-to-Tirupati corridor”, in other words, most of the eastern half of the country.
China is making increasingly belligerent noises about Tawang and all of Arunachal Pradesh. They are gambling that, despite the summit that just took place in Dharmasala, the steam has gone out of the Tibetan resistance movement. They have been emboldened by the fact that Tibetans were not able to disrupt the Olympics, and the more immediate betrayal by the British (International Herald Tribune, “Did Britain Just Sell Tibet?” http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/11/25/opinion/edbarnet.php) , who declared, contrary to all the historical evidence, that Tibet was always a part of China. Besides, the Chinese fully intend to move forward with the diversion of the Brahmaputra, which is in effect a declaration of war against the lower riparian State, India.
It is likely that the Chinese will march into Tawang – there is a lot of chatter in Chinese circles (see, an analysis by D S Rajan at the Chennai Center for China Studies http://www.c3sindia.org/strategicissues/419) about a “limited India-China war”, a replay of 1962. The Chinese have, in addition to pure geopolitics, another reason to do this, as was pointed out by strategy expert Brahma Chellaney – as in the years preceding 1962, the world is now once again hyphenating India and China. By handing India a sharp conventional military defeat, China would like that hyphenation to be removed decisively, as it surely would be. India will once again be seen as the loser it has been during the entire 1947-2000 period.
In the Northwest, Kashmir burns. The population clearly views India as a colony – they want Indian money, but they are not willing to make the slightest concessions to Hindu sentiments. It is very convenient for them to have the cake and eat it too – there is the little-known fact that J&K has practically nobody under the poverty line (2% and falling), as compared to the average of some 20% in the country as a whole. Kashmiris have prospered mightily despite – or is it because of? – the brutal ethnic cleansing of 400,000 Pundits now languishing in refugee camps.
In the traditionally quiet Peninsula, there is evidence of tremendous terrorist activity. In Kerala, it has been reported widely in the Malayalam media that 300 youths have been hired, trained and dispatched to Kashmir with explicit instructions – kill Indian soldiers and support Pakistani intrusions. Terrorism is just another job. Sleeper cells exist in every town, sometimes in the guise of “Kashmiri emporia”. The Konkan and Malabar coasts are dotted with safe harbors, where weapons, counterfeit currency and contraband are cached. The preferred mechanism – bomb blasts to inflict maximum damage. Logistics, safe houses, surveillance, forged documents, etc. are provided by a wide network.
In the tribal lands of central India, the Northeast and in Orissa, Christian terrorists are joining hands with Communist terrorists. In fact they often are one and the same, as confessed by an alleged Communist leader on TV. Their preferred weapon – liquidation of inconvenient people, as they did in the case of Swami Lakshmananda, the 84-year-old monk that they attacked with AK-47s.
The fact is that all these threats are overwhelming the security apparatus in the country, such as it is. It is quite likely that the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing and the Anti-Terrorism Squad had some inkling of something big being planned, including the movement of small arms on the Ratnagiri coastline, and the logistics-related activities of known suspects. It is unclear why they didn’t take preventive action.
There is a terrifying possibility – that they in fact had no idea this was going on. There is an aphorism that you cannot stop all terrorist activity, but in India the situation is such that no terrorist activity is stopped – they strike at will, and the populace is left to pick up the pieces of broken lives. This is no way to run a country.
The frightening possibility is that the Jaichands have in fact taken over the State. In which case, we can anticipate the total dismemberment of India – possibly preceded by an interregnum where it is failed State – in the near future.
There is one other possibility – that the Army will have to take over. It is a remote possibility, for two reasons – the Indian Army has been determinedly apolitical; and the State has continually striven to weaken it. Someone once made the ridiculous statement that India really didn’t need an army, only a police force, and it appears the entire political class and bureaucracy have internalized this slogan.
From 1962 – as always, on November 18th I silently saluted the martyrs of the Battle of Rezang-La, where C Company, 13th Kumaon died heroically to the last man – when the ill-equipped troops froze to death on the Himalayan heights, to the refusal to increase military salaries when the bureaucrats awarded themselves 300% increases recently, the State has told the military that it doesn’t value them. All the Services are starved of funds. The recent open attack on Lt. Col. Purohit is another signal that the State despises the military . As Ashok Malik pointed out in the Pioneer (“A Hindu Dreyfus Affair?” http://www.dailypioneer.com/135567/A-Hindu-Dreyfus-Affair.html ), this is a near-repeat of the celebrated Dreyfus case in France, and alas, we have no Emile Zola to cry “J’accuse!” .
One possible outcome is that the Indian military forces will gradually wither away and die, thus making the statement about India not needing an army a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is another possibility – that of a military coup d’etat. Normally, the prospect of a military takeover – given that they all end up badly – from a democracy is not something one would welcome. But then India is not a democracy – it is a kakistocracy, rule by the very worst possible people – which has the trappings of a democracy but not the substance, so I wonder if military rule could possibly be any worse.
But the chances are getting increasingly good that the Indian State will collapse, just like Pakistan already has. A recent risk assessment by the World Economic Forum and CII (“India@Risk 2008”) considers the economic, energy, food/agriculture and national security that face India. The report is more concerned about the first three items, assuming that India is secure enough as a nation.
I hope they are right, but this invasion of Mumbai – so daring and audacious – makes me wonder. I have considered a nightmare scenario of Chinese battleships arriving in triumph at the Gateway of India, to be welcomed with marigold garlands by the Jaichands, but I have to admit I never thought a motley crew of Pakistani terrorists would invade. The very future of the Indian State, suddenly, is in question. And it is mostly from self-inflicted, avoidable wounds. The failure of leadership is causing India to cease to exist.
The Pioneer has published this on May 3rd as
They edited my copy slightly. Here’s my original:
The Obama Campaign Implodes?
By Rajeev Srinivasan
That giant sucking sound you heard, with apologies to Ross Perot, was probably the sound of Barack Obama’s campaign going down the toilet. In the quaint phrase used by the Indian media, he was “hoist by his own petard”. His relationship with a dubious ‘spiritual advisor’, one Jeremiah Wright, whose church he has attended for many years, has seriously hurt Obama’s credibility and electability.
The Democratic nomination for the US Presidential election is now wide open, even though Obama leads Hillary Clinton by a substantial margin in delegate count. But Clinton, wife of the famous ‘Comeback Kid’ Bill Clinton, may have demonstrated that Obama’s major claim to fame, his ‘inclusiveness’, is a myth. Not only that, he looked decidedly un-Presidential in his handling of the Wright episode, to the extent that his honeymoon with the media may just have ended.
Wright has been an extreme advocate of black power, harboring anti-Jewish and anti-white sentiment, as well as colorful conspiracy theories. He contends, for instance, that America brought 9/11 upon itself by practicing terrorism abroad; and that the US government had infected blacks intentionally with the AIDS virus. None of this goes down well with the average American voter, so Obama was forced to distance himself from Wright.
But this issue will not go away. Obama suffered a major defeat in Pennsylvania in April, where working-class white voters showed a clear preference for Clinton. If he had managed to beat Clinton, her back-to-the-wall campaign would have ended then and there. And he did pour his resources into the fight, spending twice as much as Clinton. The take-away is that he does not resonate with lower-income whites, a large constituency.
Obama did not help himself with his naive remarks suggesting that small-town working-class voters, affected by job losses, were gun-toting, bitter racists obsessed with religion. His exact words were, “… they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” Rather elitist for an ‘inclusive’ person, wouldn’t you say?
Given this string of negative news, the word that springs to mind is “greenhorn”. Obama is inexperienced, and it shows, and this puts a big question mark on his ability to be the Commander-in-Chief. The Wright episode is the biggest crisis in his short political life, and he has mishandled it rather badly.
The point is that Obama looks like a hypocrite. He has been associated with Wright’s church for twenty years, and for him to claim that he has never heard any of the incendiary, racist hate-speech that Wright has been infamous for, sounds disingenuous, a bit like Bill Clinton claiming he didn’t inhale marijuana. It appears as though Obama stuck with Wright’s church to be able to gain a political base among Chicago’s blacks.
Clearly, Obama had not found it opportune to distance himself from Wright in the past: The title of his second book and the theme of his entire campaign are taken from Wright. Wright baptized Obama’s children, helped kick off and participated in his campaign until aides warned Obama of the possible negative impact on white voters.
Thus Obama has begun to look like just another ordinary politician, one who lies and who has ‘marriages of convenience’. That should knock him off his pedestal, and dent the mythology of ‘change’. The whole ‘change’ chorus has been mostly make-believe, anyway, but lots of people had begun to believe in the rhetoric, and Obama has become a Messiah of sorts. Or, frighteningly, a Pied Piper.
What is the change he’s going to bring in? Is Obama going to immediately pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan? Is Obama going to bring in universal health care? Is Obama going to single-handedly rescue the recession-bound American economy? Is Obama going to change American foreign policy so that the US stops supporting dictators like Pakistan’s Musharraf? Is Obama going to immediately reverse the decline in American education and competitiveness?
Is Obama going to move away from depending on Saudi petro-dollars? Is Obama going to make the plight of oppressed racial minorities in America much better? How is Obama going to rein in rampaging China and resurgent Russia? Is Obama going to reduce global warming by America dramatically?
None of these are amenable to quick fixes. It is, therefore, not entirely clear exactly what Obama is going to change. Obama may be able to beat Clinton based on all this rhetoric, but McCain may not be quite so easy. Republicans are rather good at negative campaigning, remember Karl Rove?
All this means it is likely that Obama will not win against McCain. Recent polls show him losing to McCain (although Clinton wins against McCain). This is generally disastrous for the Democrats, who had the deck loaded in their favor to begin with: a deeply unpopular Republican President in a time of war, the economy in deep distress. Pundits had given the Republicans no chance whatsoever. But with the internecine battles between Clinton and Obama, and with Obama’s self-inflicted wounds, the prize may slip away. This will also affect many other Democratic candidates, as the Presidential coat-tails usually drag along candidates for local and national office.
It may well be “Bye-bye Obama, Hello McCain”, come November’s election. An Obama-Clinton or Clinton-Obama ticket is still a theoretical possibility. But it’s not that that any of this makes much of a difference to Indian interests. None of the candidates is going to do much for India, except that Democrats tend to be worse non-proliferation ayatollahs than Republicans. And both Democrats are protectionists, too.
There is another distant possibility, though: the Democratic Convention may draft Al Gore. This has happened before, when an undeclared but electable non-candidate was drafted by the party bosses: examples include Franklin Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson. A Gore-Obama candidacy may work, as I doubt Gore-Clinton would excite Al very much. This may also stand a better chance against McCain.
But there’s no question that Obama’s chances have been hurt, perhaps fatally, by his ex-mentor.
1000 words, May 1, 2008
March 27, 2008
This was published recently on Rediff
January 1, 2008
To be posted when published by Rediff. This is part I
On this Winter Solstice, I am a Gujarati
Rajeev Srinivasan on how the Gujarat elections mark a high point in the year’s news
The Gujarat election results were announced on a very appropriate day: the day after Winter Solstice, the beginning of the movement of the Sun towards the north. Uttarayanam is auspicious, a time of new beginnings; this is the time for which the aged Bhishma waited, in excruciating pain on the sara-sayya, bed of arrows. If we are lucky, we will be seeing a new beginning in the Indian political scenario as well.
John Kennedy said famously in cold-war-era, besieged Berlin after the Wall was built: Ich bin ein Berliner. He meant to say, “I am, metaphorically, one of you Berliners, and I stand by you”. Today, the Gujarati feels besieged by an unrelenting barrage of negative propaganda that portrays them all, collectively and individually, as monsters. All decent people must stand by Gujaratis, because unprincipled rogues are demonizing them willy-nilly.
This demonization is a major reason why Gujaratis turned out in droves to elect Modi; the second reason is the UPA’s obvious antipathy towards Hindus, which is coming back to haunt them.
November 5, 2007
Any comments on http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/nov/05rajeev.htm can be posted here.
October 11, 2007
Rajeev Srinivasan on what passes for democracy in these parts
I hear that General Musharraf has won the post of Pakistan’s President in a landslide victory. I haven’t followed the Musharraf extravaganza closely, I must admit, because I am not obsessed with Pakistan. Despite its being a serious nuisance, I don’t think Pakistan matters. It is a failing State with no self-image, or reason for existence, other than being ‘not-India’. They exhibit this periodically by destroying yet another bit of Indian civilization, most recently by blowing up a three-meter-high 7th century CE Buddha in Swat http://www.thenews.com.pk/top_story_detail.asp?Id=10395
So it is immaterial if Musharraf remains in power or not, given the history of Pakistan’s civilian rulers (e.g. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who famously promised to even “eat grass” to get his country nuclear weapons). I am not enthused about Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto. I am reminded of Salman Rushdie’s cutting portrayal of Benazir Bhutto (he called her character “Virgin Ironpants”) in what may be his most insightful book, the under-appreciated “Shame”, about the absurdity of Pakistan.
Sharif was dour and the ISI kept him in the dark about what was really going on. Benazir, on the other hand, has always been colorful. Charming and shrill by turns, she ran circles around the pallid and stuffy old men in Delhi last time around, and they would be no match for her if she comes back to power again.
It is even possible that Musharraf is better from an Indian perspective than these mercurial civilian characters. Musharraf is a dependable, single-minded, and known, villain. Besides, Musharraf he has done a great deal for his country under trying circumstances. He has run with the hare (the Taliban) and hunted with the hound (the Americans) in a breath-taking display of sleight-of-hand. He has managed to turn a serious situation (Richard Armitage threatening to bomb Pakistan “into the Stone Age” after 9/11) into a cornucopia of American and Saudi largesse.
This is much more than can be said of India’s ruling politicians. None of them has done anything for India so far as I can see. Anything positive that happens in India is despite the so-called leaders: wherever they have ceased to interfere, Indians have done well. There is a clear ‘Leadership Penalty’ which is a continuing variant of what I once called the ‘Nehruvian Penalty’ http://www.rediff.com/news/2004/jan/14rajeev.htm . For the latest example of pork-barrel politics, see the BBC’s September 26 report “India job scheme ‘disappointing’” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7005985.stm on how the much-ballyhooed rural employment scheme is a huge waste of money.
India suffers mightily from lousy leadership. A strutting Musharraf, short-sighted and tactical commando though he might be, is doing far more in his national interest than the politicians in India are in theirs. So maybe Musharraf deserved to win his election. After all, who are his biggest opponents? Lawyers! Surely Shakespeare had a point when he suggested, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”. (Note to the humor-impaired: I am not suggesting any violence, merely quoting the bard.)
Or maybe Musharraf used some good old strong-arm tactics. Perhaps he pulled out more of that make-believe stuff that he has copyrighted (see my column “Musharraf’s Theater of the Absurd” http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/jul/10rajeev.htm ). Anyway, I guess we may be in for some more years of Musharraf. India’s journalists must be pleased, especially the guy who promised Musharraf a few years ago that he and his fellow journalists would deliver a government in India that would be to Musharraf’s liking.
Over in Dhaka, the military rulers are still rather popular, as they have put an end to the Two-Begum Circus. Both of them were extremely corrupt, and in the case of Begum Zia, a fundamentalist bigot. Being rid of two such characters is, not surprisingly, a relief to the person on the street.
In Nepal, the Communists are carrying on with their usual little charades: pretending to be interested in elections, just so they can buy time to build up their armed power to eventually take over, line up their opponents and shoot them, just as all Communists have done whenever they came to power anywhere.
Now let’s move to that other stronghold of democracy in the Indian subcontinent, Bangalore. If Musharraf is a Three-Ring Barnum and Bailey Circus, namma own Deve Gowde is a most innovative Cirque du Soleil. The man is brilliant at coming up with new and unusual excuses for not vacating the chair. I particularly admire his chutzpah and epidermal fortitude. Most rhinoceroses would be put to shame.
The fact, to not put too fine a point on it, is that the JD(S) simply reneged on its agreement with its coalition partner, which they had done previously too. There must have been a number of calculations behind this behavior – and I can only conjecture about them. One is that Deve Gowda expected to get into an alliance with the Congress and continue to rule Karnataka. Another is that he expects to do well in a mid-term poll.
The third is that Deve Gowda is merely thumbing his nose at the BJP, telling them in so many words that they are paper tigers who can be betrayed at will. This should be cause for concern for the BJP, for such a perception, if it is widespread, spells ruin for it in various elections to come, including a possible national general election.
The final, and most damaging, possibility is that Deve Gowda expects that there will be no negative consequences to his actions because the public is an ass. Such a person who cavalierly abandons any commitment expects to brazenly go to the hustings and make promises galore. This implies complete contempt for the intelligence, not to speak of the memory, of the masses. This level of derision is a very poor advertisement for the peculiar animal known as ‘democracy’ that prevails in India.
The UPA has been especially responsible for the perversion of democratic ideals in India. I am beginning to forget the list of elections they have messed with: Jharkhand, Goa, Bihar… There is a sense that the Congress’s definition of “democracy” is close to a dictatorship, just as its ally the Communists have defined “democracy” as “one man, one vote, one time”. Add to the volatile mix regional parties which often have a single-point agenda: of hijacking the national interest for their own, narrow, regional interests.
India, and its neighbors, are giving democracy a bad name. Or maybe not. In none of these nations has democracy been anything more than a charade and a hoax. The correct name for what goes on is “kleptocracy” – rule by thieves. Or perhaps it is even “kakistocracy” – rule by the very worst possible people.