What will happen on May 16th, 2014?

 

Rajeev Srinivasan

 

I write this shortly after the exit polls for the 2014 elections have been published, and they have uniformly suggested that the NDA will come to power with somewhere between 240 and 300 seats on their own. If you believe that the exit polls and the elections have successfully captured the will of the people, this is good. But if you are a suspicious type, it is not difficult to imagine that another constitutional coup will be readied in the next couple of days till May 16th.

 

I have written about several constitutional coups successfully carried out by the Congress in the past http://www.rediff.com/news/column/column-rajeev-srinivasan-4-ways-the-congress-won-power-through-constitutional-coups/20140107.htm , and I see no reason to believe they have suddenly reformed themselves. They will hang on to power at all costs, and will be prepared to sacrifice the last Indian for it.

 

I would be astonished, indeed floored, if there were a smooth and simple transfer of power to the NDA. The Congress did demit office once, when Indira Gandhi lost in 1977 or so, but today’s Congressis are a different kettle of fish. They have more to hide, and also have more at stake, including their ill-gotten gains salted away, probably, in Macau these days as Switzerland has gotten a bit too hot.

 

In this context, several statements made by Congress bigwigs look sinister. A few days ago, P Chidambaram promised that on the 16th, there will be a big surprise. Now coming from one of the most astute of Congressmen, and one known not to exaggerate, this probably means that we are in for a “May Surprise” much like incumbent American presidents like to deliver “October Surprises” that help them.

 

Rahul Gandhi, the heir-apparent manqué, was more precise: he promised that 22,000 people would die if Narendra Modi were to be elected. Why exactly 22,000? He did not elaborate.

 

But Amaresh Misra, a leading Congressman, was quite vocal in a series of tweets on May 13th. He promised rivers of blood. In fact he was quite blood-curdling, here is a selection, verbatim. It doesn’t appear to be mere bravado; and since he is a confidant of Rahul, we need to take his threats seriously; in fact I am not sure why he has not been subject either to the Section 66A provisions that have been used to shut down people deemed dangerous on the Internet, or to the Election Commission’s strictures regarding the model code of conduct during elections.

 

Amaresh Misra ‏@AmareshMisra  12h

To save democracy, all those supporting right wing forces on twitter will be killed. We will send CRPF to your houses. Drag you out/shoot!

Amaresh Misra ‏@AmareshMisra  12h

A fascist leader who will kill minorities, change India’s secular character will be stopped by the Indian State by any means!

Amaresh Misra ‏@AmareshMisra  12h

We will come out on the streets on 16th May to combat communal forces. We will kill all anti-national BJP supporters!

Amaresh Misra ‏@AmareshMisra  11h

Whoever supports Modi is a Pakistani agent. He is liable to be killed with a bullet above his waist!

Amaresh Misra ‏@AmareshMisra  9h

In Egypt, the army killed 2000 fundamentalists to preserve secularism. We will kill 2,00,000 Sanghis to save Indian democracy!

Amaresh Misra ‏@AmareshMisra  7h

Indian people will not accept even one seat to BJP/NDA beyond 180, cause that means rigging by Modi. We will call in the army. We will kill!

Amaresh Misra ‏@AmareshMisra  7h

Election Commission will be responsible for any violence on 16th May. EC needs to insure BJP/NDA does not get 1 seat beyond 180!

 

To put this in context, I wrote recently (in the unfortunately titled http://www.rediff.com/news/column/rajeev-srinivasan-the-time-will-come-when-america-can-dictate-to-india/20140303.htm ) about the Berkeley mafia focusing on ‘violent riots in India’. The general tone – and the decidedly dubious members of the group – suggested to me that far from ‘studying violent riots’ they may well be keen to incite a few. Reading between the lines, some of them, including US residents, have been spending a lot of time in the field in India, although it is not clear if they are trying to construct new and improved narratives for Gujarat 2002, or whether they are doing reconnaissance for new riots to be launched.

 

To add to this, to my personal chagrin as my alma mater, Stanford’s Law School has just produced a report entitled, ponderously, “When Justice Becomes the Victim: The Quest for Justice After the 2002 Violence in Gujarat” http://humanrightsclinic.law.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/When-Justice-Becomes-the-Victim-secure.pdf . I haven’t read it, but judging from the breathlessness with which it was sprung upon an unsuspecting public by lefties – I imagine it consists of more warmed-over nonsense that paints the 2002 Gujarat riots as, well, the greatest example of man’s inhumanity to man, since, let me guess, the fire-bombing of Tokyo in WW2 that killed 100,000 people?

 

What this suggests, in conjunction with the rabid anti-Modi rhetoric from the western military-industrial-media complex, especially the New York Times and The Economist, is that the imperial and religious-conversion types there have no intention of letting go of India, now that they have locked on to it as a prime target for domination, and have amassed (in Rajiv Malhotra’s terminology) an army of sepoys to ensure that their writ continues to run in India.

 

Therefore, there are several scenarios I fear may be played out in the near future:

 

  1. The 1996 scenario, with the NDA only getting 250 seats, and being forced to demit office after only 13 days
  2. The AAP scenario, with a puppet government sworn in and the Congress pulling the strings from behind
  3. The Kerala 1957 scenario, with the country being made ungovernable through manufactured violence
  4. The Z scenario, with Modi being liquidated and martial law being imposed

The 1996 scenario

Atal Behari Vajpayee only managed to get 252 seats, and with all the ‘secular’ parties unwilling to support him, was forced to resign after 13 days and call for fresh elections. This is the most benign scenario the Congress might follow: and it would be a relatively simple matter for them to manipulate the Electronic Voting Machines to get this outcome.

 

We have known for a long time (see indiaevm.org or my previous column http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/sep/01/the-real-issue-with-electronic-voting-machines.htm ) that EVMs are highly vulnerable. Given the opaque and easily-penetrated nature of election security, and given endemic corruption, it is highly probable that EVMs can be manipulated to come out with any result desired by the powers-that-be. Let us note that the Supreme Court-mandated VVPATs (EVMs with printed receipts ready for a recount if need be) are in only 20,000 out 18,00,000 booths, in effect making the court order superfluous. We still have the EVMs that did such yeoman duty in 2009.

 

I predict that they will confine the NDA to 250 seats, thus leaving Narendra Modi to the tender mercies of the Teen Kanya (J Jayalalitha, Mamata Banerjee, and Mayawati), whose support the NDA would require to hit the magic 272. All of them are tough customers, and it would be very difficult for the NDA to win them over (with Jayalalitha a slightly better prospect). Chances are that a fresh election will have to be called later this year.

 

The problem is that Narendra Modi’s literally superhuman efforts addressing hundreds of rallies (and they were more than a normal human being should be asked to deliver) are what brought about the Modi Wave or Tsunami. It would be literally impossible for him to replicate this feat, and thus a by-election would bring a much-diminished tally to the NDA, obliging them to once again solicit the various regional satraps and being forced to accept their agendas.

 

And how will the obvious disconnect between the exit polls and the election ‘results’ be explained away? Oh, the exit polls are always wrong, they will say, pulling out the numbers from 2009 for reference. In fact, the Economic Times has already done so, right on cue (“Before results, opinions”, May 12th). There is also the small matter, as pointed out by Monu Nalapat in 2009, that the EC web site had some results before counting started – that is, instead of the server taking data from the individual EVMs, the results were pre-programmed into the server!

And oh, just to make things more entertaining, they may actually pull off the trick of having Arvind Kejriwal defeat Modi in Varanasi. EVM magic at  your service!

The AAP scenario

 

By now it is clear that the Aam Admi Party, despite all its hoopla, was merely a mask for the Congress, and a way for it to split anti-incumbency votes. The proper modus operandi was used to perfection in the Delhi polls recently. By sacrificing the unpopular Sheila Dixit (well, let’s not cry for her – she’s comfortably ensconced as Kerala Governor: nice sinecure) the Congress was able to blunt the BJP’s thrust to rule Delhi.

 

By projecting AAP as different from the Congress, and then quietly supporting them at an opportune time, the election was essentially stolen from the BJP: the AAP made big inroads into the educated urban cohort that is the most fed-up with the Congress. Naturally, western vested interests, in the form of various Agencies and Foundations, provided the lion’s share of the funding, and the media, with alacrity, anointed Arvind Kejriwal as a serious contender for the Prime Minister post. (In reality, the AAP may win 0-1 seat, at best 2-3.)

 

This scenario can work with that hoary chestnut, the Third Front government that will surely be trotted out should the NDA not get a clear majority. As in 2004, when the Communists ‘supported the UPA from outside’, it would not be difficult to arrange a ramshackle and unsteady coalition to form the government, with the Congress ‘supporting it from outside’.

 

Of course, this would lead to disaster, as investors, especially the FIIs who have run up the Sensex and the rupee, immediately leave in droves, as they would be aware that absolutely nothing would move forward on the economic front. Status quo ante, stagflation.

The Kerala 1957 scenario

 

The Communist government of EMS Nambudiripad, duly elected, was ousted in 1957 using a classic, reputedly standard spy agency tactic. By funding and supporting the most reactionary elements in Kerala (you can guess who they were), the three-letter Agency was able to manufacture a law-and-order situation.

 

The great democrat Jawaharlal Nehru, far from upholding the sanctity of the democratic process, promptly used Section 356 of the Constitution to impose President’s rule and kicked EMS out. Not that I hold any brief for the Communists, but this was a patently authoritarian act, and it set India on the slippery slope towards later, indiscriminate use of the Center’s powers to get rid of state governments it simply did not like.

 

Given the Berkeley mafia’s exertions, and the Stanford guys’ fulminations, not to mention seriously bone-chilling perorations in The Guardian, etc. by all sorts of people – and I have to mention that, to its credit, the Wall Street Journal  has kept away from this travesty – it seems likely that the West (especially John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and other assorted Democrats) is intent on creating problems in India.

 

There have been many instances when popularly-elected leaders have been subverted – the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran, or that of Allende in Chile come to mind – after the creation of serious law and order situations. In case you think I am kidding, Exhibit A: last month’s Assam riot between Muslims and Bodos; last week’s Meerut riot between Muslims and Jains (yes, Jains!); and today’s Hyderabad riot between Muslims and Sikhs.

 

The threats from Rahul Gandhi and Amrish Misra point to the likelihood of such planned ‘uprisings’ taking place. Of course, the use of violence to disrupt and tie down an administration can happen even if a Modi government does come to power. Incidentally, this is very close to what is happening in Thailand right now, as low-level violence has paralyzed the nation, and a court has just asked Yingluck Shinawatra to step down.

The Z scenario

 

This is the most alarming, but by no means unthinkable, scenario. The film Z by Costa-Gavras, based on real-life incidents in Greece in the 1950s, shows how an enormously popular candidate for the presidency is assassinated by the military junta in power. When popular unrest bubbles up, the generals declare martial law and countermand the elections. This is quite possibly the greatest political film of all time, and it is my nightmare scenario.

 

Let us remember that as long ago as five or six years ago Karan Thapar, a journalist with strong ties to the Congress, talked about “the sudden removal of Narendra Modi”. It was obvious that he was thinking about an assassination, a physical liquiation. So this scenario has been thought about by at least some people.

 

I argued some time ago http://www.indiafacts.co.in/author/rajeev-srinivasan/#sthash.DtEgOnxf.dpbs that Modi had grown too popular to be assassinated – as the backlash would surely propel the BJP to office. However, now that the election is over, that point is moot, and it would not constrain anybody.

 

And exactly what will happen in such a scenario? Even though people have suggested there would be a civil war, I doubt it. The Army has remained apolitical and thus a marginal player. The average Indian is too docile to go out there and throw Molotov cocktails, and even if we had more hot-heads in the population, as in Iran or Ukraine or Egypt, or even in the US (remember the “Occupy Wall Street” etc. demonstrations?), it is hard to sustain an agitation over a long period, and the authorities can wear you down – you do have to go to work and earn a living, after all. Thus, an actual coup would become a fait accompli.

 

I have outlined above several scenarios that might unfold by Friday. I truly hope that I am wrong, and that there will be a smooth transition of power without the decimation of any of the institutions of the State. If otherwise, I hope that the least violent and the least damaging path will be taken, for the sake of this great nation.

2291 words, May 14, 2014

Errata: An earlier version said 1998 instead of 1996 for the short-lived Vajpayee government. Sorry.

 

A slightly edited version of the following was published on rediff.com on march 1st, 2012 at http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-social-contract-why-modi-scares-the-usual-suspects/20120301.htm

Social Contract: Why Narendra Modi scares the bejeezus out of the usual suspects

Rajeev Srinivasan on why Narendra Modi is a threat to the establishment because he overturns many of the convenient myths they propagate

It is a predictable a winter ritual: around this time every year it gets into high gear. A bit like Super Bowl season or duck-hunting season: the season to invent, regurgitate and shed crocodile tears over stories about how wicked Narendra Modi is.

There are quite possibly three reasons why there is such widespread and venomous criticism of Modi, apart from the obvious political fact that he has become a viable candidate for national office. Any one of these is good enough reason for Modi-bashing; but given all of them simultaneously, no wonder his detractors are practically apoplectic.

The three reasons, in my opinion, are:

  • Modi has created a Social Contract with the people of Gujarat, which seems to work; it has broader national implications as well
  • Modi has tamed the corruption monster, by not taking bribes himself, but more importantly, preventing others from doing so
  • Modi has shown total contempt for political shysters and media hucksters: this hurts their amour-propre; not to mention their pocket-books

Modi’s greatest achievement has been the fact that he has created a clear social contract with the people of his state. (I am indebted to my friend B Rao of Los Angeles for this insight). Modi promised them development, and he delivered. In return, he asked for just one thing: discipline; and the people delivered. This has become a win-win situation for both parties, and for investors: there is a visible change in Gujarat’s fortunes, right on the ground.

The State GDP growth rate of Gujarat in the recent past has been at a scorching pace of 11.3% in 2005 (see http://www.rediff.com/business/slide-show/slide-show-1-glimpses-of-gujarats-high-growth-story/20120209.htm), considerably greater than that of India as a whole. This does not, alas, satisfy carping critics.

There was a long essay in Caravan magazine: I glanced through it, and one of the points made was that, even though $920 billion in investment had been promised for Gujarat during the last few ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ meets, only about 25% of these have materialized. That, however, is the norm in India: no more than about 25% of the promised investment actually materializes.

But look at the sheer numbers: almost a trillion dollars in investment proposals, and actual investment of, say, $230 billion! That is astonishing. This number can be directly contrasted with another large number: $462 billion. That is the amount estimated by Global Financial Integrity http://india.gfintegrity.org/ as the total amount siphoned out of India through illegal financial flows between 1948 and 2008.

In an intriguing irony, ‘Vibrant Gujarat 2011’ saw MoUs for $462 billion being signed – precisely the same as the amount estimated by Global Financial Integrity as having been spirited away in sixty years of allegedly socialist rule at the Center!

Modi has delivered on his implicit Social Contract: growth in return for order. When you think of social contracts, there are several models to consider, for instance those attributed to Europeans such as Locke, Rousseau and Hobbes, medieval imperialist models, Indian models, and the Confucian ‘Iron Rice Bowl’.

A common thread among all these models is that there is a tradeoff: there are rights, and there are responsibilities. It is necessary that you give away some of your rights in the interest of the greater good of society. The models differ in details, as well as in perspective – for instance is it teleological/utilitarian, preferring the greatest good for the greatest number, or is it deontological, preferring to protect the rights of the very weakest members? In some cases, it is neither, and is meant to be purely exploitative.

It could be argued that Modi has revived a traditional Hindu/Buddhist social contract, which, in return for discipline and hard work, provides the populace with security and righteous order. The population may pursue dharma, artha, kama, or moksha, without interference from the State; but they pay taxes and do their civic duty, and the State guarantees protection from predatory outsiders. This is roughly in line with the American idea of the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

This general Indian principle also evolved into the idea of gentlemanly warfare, wherein non-combatants were spared, with only the kshatriya class involved in bloodshed, battles ended at nightfall, and winners were chivalrous to fallen foes.

This sort of contract is explicit in Emperor Ashoka’s reign, and most vividly in Chanakya’s Arthashastra. Chanakya laid out in detail the kinds of information-gathering and management control that a sovereign needs to institutionalize, and contrary to popular mythology, Ashoka employed thousands of spies to ensure that any unrest was nipped in the bud and malcontents isolated.

This model was what turned India into the most prosperous nation in the world, as detailed in Angus Maddison’s magisterial economic history of the world. It was in fact the world’s leading economic power till roughly 1700 CE.

This model worked for several thousand years, from the earliest known stages of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization roughly five thousand years, up until the arrival of Arab and Turkish hordes in the 1100 CE timeframe, and later, the European hordes circa 1700 CE. This dharma or ‘natural order’ in Locke’s terms has been forgotten by modern Indians, brought up on a steady diet of misinformation.

The models that today’s Indians are more familiar with are Hobbesian, leading to “nasty, brutish and short” lives – those of empire. We have endured three forms of this imperial model: Muslim, Christian, and Communist. And we have barely survived.

The Arab/Turkish Muslim social contract of dhimmitude imposes order by explicitly reducing the rights of certain groups (non-Muslims) while allowing them the minimum possible subsistence to exploit them as productive members of society. However, in India, this was an unstable equilibrium because the Hindus resisted, and resisted continuously, unlike non-Muslims in, say, Iraq, Egypt or Persia.

The European Christian social contract of colonialism imposes order by explicitly pursuing a policy of overseas theft and loot, based on the superiority of “guns, germs and steel”. Interestingly, this social contract is now unraveling, as there are no more subject peoples to loot and steal from: Europe is collapsing into oblivion.

An excellent interview in the Wall Street Journal on February 26th with historian Norman Davies http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203918304577240984211126416.html suggests that the end is nigh for Europe. Why? Its social contract with its citizens has been that they would get prosperity in return for providing the muscle for overseas expeditions. Bereft of empire and forced to fall back on their own (minimal) resources, countries like the UK are rapidly reverting to their natural, Hobbesian state: the riots in several cities last year are indicative of this.

The Communist social contract is a form of fascism and Stalinism.  It demands absolute loyalty from the public in return for… well, promises, but not often the reality, of prosperity. There is the stinging criticism that Communism offers you a version of democracy: “one man, one vote, one time”. That’s it. One time.

The incarnations of this contract range from the brutal gulags of the Soviet Union, China and Cambodia to the more mellow socialism in India. But that last, even though less violent in visible ways, has been an economic crime against humanity: it prevented 400 million Indians from climbing out of poverty. After sixty years of it, Manmohan Singh called hunger in India a ‘national shame’. It is indeed a shame, and it indicates the utter failure of the Communist/socialist social contract.

This is why the powers-that-be fear Modi’s obviously successful social contract: much as they try to paint Modi as hell-bent on victimizing Muslims, the latter have voted with their feet. They are willing to stay in Gujarat, eschew violence, and prosper. The Hindus are doing exactly the same thing: they have stayed, eschewed violence, and prospered. Precisely: a real secular state, where you succeed not based on your religion, but on how hard you work.

So clearly there is an alternative to the orthodox Stalinism of the powers-that-be, one that works. How terrible it will be if the rest of the country took notice! Whatever will the purveyors of failed social contracts do? That is reason number one Modi is bad.

Reason number two is related. Endemic corruption, and lack of leadership, are the biggest problems India faces. There are many leaders who are supposedly personally honest, but who allow those around them to indulge in the mass loot of the public treasury. Is that any better than if they were themselves indulging in theft? Probably not: it just adds hypocrisy to their other crimes.

Modi has been able to fix corruption with a singular mantra: not only is he personally not on the take but he doesn’t have offspring on the take either (Bhishma-like, eh?). But what’s more, he doesn’t allow anybody else to be corrupt either. This is most distressing for the neta-babu crowd. The fishes and loaves of office are turning into ashes in their salivating mouths: so what is the point in spending big bucks to get a rentier job or an MLA seat unless your rent-seeking self can recoup the investment in a matter of months? None whatsoever, and that is precisely the point!

It is amusing to note that Narendra Modi is immensely popular everywhere in Gujarat, except in the capital Gandhinagar – his party gets defeated here routinely, while it gets two-thirds majorities elsewhere! The neta-babu log are, understandably, unhappy with him. But I suspect the legendary mango man (aam aadmi) is quite happy.

The third reason is that, just as Modi has tamed the politician-bureaucrat nexus, he has also figured out the way to deal with the loud and self-important media, soi-disant “intelligentsia” and the NGO crowd. He doesn’t pay any attention to their foaming at the mouth; in fact, if I remember right, there was some incident where he simply got up and walked off a live TV interview when the rabid host kept hyperventilating.

India’s media and “intellectuals” have fattened themselves by attaching themselves to the mammaries of the welfare state, and following a simple mantra: “All the news that will get us crumbs from the government or junkets from foreign donors”. In fact, India has some of the most astonishingly biased people in positions of power.

There is, for instance, a statement by an activist immediately after the Sabarmati Express was set on fire, and 59 Hindus, mostly women and children, were burnt alive. This person said: “while I condemn today’s gruesome attack, you cannot pick up an incident in isolation. Let us not forget the provocation. These people were not going for a benign assembly. They were indulging in blatant and unlawful mobilization to build a temple and deliberately provoke the Muslims in India.” (‘Mob attacks Indian train’, Washington Post, Feb 28th, 2002 http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A13791-2002Feb27?language=printer).

Now imagine that this person sits on the all-powerful National Advisory Council! Let us now further imagine that this person has relentlessly filed petition after petition against Modi; has been accused of serial perjury and witness tampering; and is yet considered a credible spokesperson.

This is just an example of a media/NGO nexus that believes strongly in “truth by repeated assertion”, a successful tactic by the Communists too. That the Indian media is prostituting itself to the highest bidder (when they are not being bigots) is no surprise; no wonder Modi doesn’t care two hoots what they think. But this, of course, annoys the hell out of said media who fancy themselves as judge, jury and executioner put together.

There is a minor cottage industry that is centered on explaining how Hinduism is at the root of all evils in India. The latest is a bunch of misinformed kids at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, who wrote an essay wherein they blamed everything that is wrong in India on the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Arthashastra. There is ample evidence that this sort of ritualized strawman-building-and-knocking-down is a successful imperial tactic.

For instance, the British claimed Ayurveda and kalari payat were evil, banned them, and burned the books. They claimed the ancient practice of smearing cowpox pus as a preventive against smallpox was ‘barbaric’, and banned it. They claimed devadasis were an abomination, but in fact they were, like geishas, cultured women of substance, who often endowed public works like dam-building. They claimed dowry and jati are evil; but dowry, according to Veena Talwar Oldenburg’s remarkable research, was the result of British practices. Jati is the very reason Indian civilization has survived, because its distributed nature makes it hard to eradicate.

Narendra Modi is one person who has figured out the antidote to the venom from the self-proclaimed “intellectuals” and their newspapers and TV. He goes over their heads to a higher-authority: the people. And the people respond, showing said “intellectuals” how superfluous they are. No wonder they are livid.

Thus, by re-creating a viable social contract, by being an ethical leader, and by ignoring the vicious, Modi has shown he has the one thing that India needs: leadership. Not at all good, if you are one of those currently pretending to be leaders.

2200 words, 26th Feb 2012

A version of the following was published by DNA on jan 12th, 2011 at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/column_india-is-finally-seeing-the-birth-of-alternative-journalism_1493314, and the PDF is at http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epaperpdf/12012011/11main%20edition-pg16-0.pdf

An emergent people’s journalism finally in India?

Rajeev Srinivasan on how a spontaneous movement of neutral, patriotic, non-professional citizen journalists and commentators on the Internet may be rewriting norms in media

Some journalists get confused and start believing they make the news, rather than just report it. This, and journalistic groupthink, has led to a grotesquely skewed discourse: India’s supposed ‘centrists’ would be considered ‘far Left’ elsewhere. Their conventional wisdom is curiously anti-national as well.

“All the news that is fit to print” simply isn’t printed in India, only that which supports a particular viewpoint. Besides, those who do not toe the line are blackballed: you cannot get published, period. Several people have told me about their personal experience of being excluded for their views.

This perverted system engenders a persistent anti-India bias in international media, too. When in India, foreign correspondents interact primarily with Delhi’s insular, incestuous journalist-sling-bag-wallah nexus that sneers at middle India; their endemic prejudices infect the foreigners.

At least Western media pays lip service to being non-judgmental. In India, there is an obvious industrialist-politician-journalist axis. They ‘manufacture consent’. But they were caught red-handed, Watergate-style, in the Radia tapes incident. Thereupon the entire media closed ranks, and simply buried the story, hoping it would go away: this tactic has always worked in the past. Unfortunately for them, this time it didn’t work, because Internet readers, especially Twitterati (those using the instant, SMS-like, 140-character Twitter social network), reflected popular outrage, and kept the issue alive.

Self-important scribes became concerned about their image on Twitter. When they were not given fawning adulation, they began abusing Twitterati as cave-dwelling illiterates or “Internet Hindus”, showing their habitual scorn for the ‘little people’. One even threatened people with IPC 509, “insulting the modesty of a woman”, simply for questioning her dogmas.

But the Twitterati, mostly middle-class, urban, young, tech-savvy Indians both in India and abroad, were not browbeaten, and responded in kind – and in this level-playing-field medium, they had exactly the same access as any high-and-mighty journalist. The latter, accustomed to being little tin-pot dicators, and to being able to say ‘off-with-their-heads’ and censor any opinions and retorts they didn’t like in their media, were quickly put on the defensive.

And this developed into a sort of dependency: the scribes desperately want love, or at least respect, from the Twitterati! Not surprisingly, Twitterati have utter contempt for the journos, and say so in no uncertain terms. The Twitterati – some influential commentators include @atanudey, @barbarindian, @sandeepweb, @swathipradeep2 – are the very upwardly-mobile cohort that the English-language media craves, but they are clearly not buying the same old anodyne Kool-Aid that is dished out.

One more thing began to happen: the western media picked up what bloggers and Twitter people were saying. This hit the uppity journos where it hurts the most. They fulfilled their greatest ambition – getting the coveted fifteen minutes of fame in the NY Times or Washington Post; but, alas, it was via a commentary on their (lack of) journalistic ethics and on the harsh judgment of Internet readers.

As a result, Vir Sanghvi for all practical purposes fell on his sword, shutting down his impugned column. Barkha Dutt tried the opposite tack: brazening it out and proclaiming innocence. This did not work; NDTV’s credibility is damaged and her ratings have plummeted (according to TAM data for December). An attempt at self-defense on TV boomeranged: she appeared shifty and guilty as charged, Nixon-like. She may have committed journalistic hara-kiri.

Furthermore, the IBN network, also viewed with derision as #IBNlies, was caught by @preeti86 ham-handedly fabricating fake tweets (messages) from non-existent identities in an effort to inflate support for their positions.

Pathetically, the scribes and their sock-puppets (planted supporters) are attempting to paint themselves as victims of a conspiracy among Twitterati. But this snake-oil is not selling. One of the sock-puppets, some minor Bollywood type screeching #stopabuseontwitter, showed himself a hypocrite by making crude sexual suggestions to a woman online, and then running for cover when someone brought up IPC 509.

Fed-up Internet mavens have long complained that the media in India is corrupt, sold out (#paidmedia and #dalalmedia are popular terms) and anti-national. It appears that Twitterati have finally created an alternative, uncensored, independent channel for news and commentary.

This is as subversive as the samizdat underground press in the erstwhile Soviet Union was. Even more ominously for the powerful, there is the example of OhmyNews in Korea. This little paper, initially a one-man effort, became so wildly popular that eventually it was instrumental in toppling an elected regime in 2002.

Will the emergent people’s media in India play a similar role? That would be poetic justice – he who corrupts the media falls to its new, web-enabled incarnation. The establishment, naturally, will fight this: a new push to monitor Internet usage may lead to a Great Firewall of India, stifling the new medium.

Rajeev Srinivasan is a management consultant.

825 words, 11 Jan 2011

I wrote this initially for publication in a newspaper, but on second thoughts decided they would have too hard a time with it. Hence I decided to just post it here. I omitted to add a bunch of other information I had because of the word limit, but it would be useful to think of:

a) how the media and the State always suppress information about the misadventures of Christist godmen: the Sister Abhaya case has been essentially shelved because the Supreme Court (how conveniently!) decided that narco-analysis was not acceptable, just in time for the perps nun Seffi and godmen Kottoor and Puthrukkayil to escape

b) how large-scale conversion has turned not only the Northeast, but most of Kerala and parts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh into Xtist-majority areas where Hindus are oppressed

c) how land-grab is one of the major objectives: the tribals are converted, and their land is simply taken over by the Xtists. The entire Western Ghats in Kerala, formerly tribal and public land, has been captured by Xtists

d) how Xtists are expropriating Hindu cultural artifacts and claiming them to be their own, eg. bharatanatyam, mohini attam, yoga, karnatic music

e) how Hindu leaders and Hindu children are being abducted in Pakistan (especially in Baluchistan) and there is not a peep from the Government of India about it. Most recently, the most revered Hindu monk, an 80-year-old, was abducted and hasn’t been heard from since — we should presume he has been murdered

f) how Xtist icons have started appearing with State benediction. The crosses on official Indian coins are clearly Xtist idols.

I did not have space to go into these, but they are worth considering.

Here’s the original article:

Is there a powerful mafia working tirelessly to convert Hindus?

Rajeev Srinivasan wonders if there is a malevolent design behind how Hindu leaders are consistently subjected to brutality by the State

What do Aseemanand, Lakshmananda and the Kanchi Swami have in common? They were all making things difficult for missionaries to meet their conversion targets, and they paid for that ‘sin’. There is a sinister pattern – if you stand in the way of the conversion mafia, they will liquidate you.

Aseemanand’s social and educational work for decades in the tribal Dangs district of Gujarat has been highly appreciated by the tribals themselves. But he has been jailed on flimsy charges, likely tortured, and what sounds suspiciously like a ‘confession-at-the-point-of-a-gun’ has been wrung out of him.

Lakshmananda, the octogenarian monk who worked for thirty years in Orissa’s tribal areas, was the subject of many death threats; he was physically assaulted; and finally he and others in his ashram were gunned down with AK-47s.

The Kanchi Swami was humiliated – tejovadham – on trumped-up charges; he was jailed like a common criminal (as though house arrest were unknown in India), in a deliberate effort to damage the prestige of the Kanchi Sankara Matham. The Kanchi Swami’s ‘crime’? He has been active among the scheduled castes in Tamil Nadu, ensuring their inclusion in what had long been criticized as an upper-caste institution.

The list is endless: there is the Bangalore monk Nityananda – wasn’t it quite amazing that minutes after his allegedly compromising videos were flashed on TV, there was a self-organizing ‘irate mob’ available to burn down his ashram? After all the righteous indignation, when the alleged woman in the video – actress Ranjitha – said that the whole thing was fabricated by a missionary, who is also issuing death threats against her, that was blanked out by the pliant media.

Possible reason for the wrath against Nityananda: the charismatic, lower-caste monk was seen as a role model, and was attracting large numbers of young followers from the lower castes.

Then there were the persistent allegations against the Sai Baba of Puttaparthi regarding pedophilia – it turned out that when challenged in court, the accusers simply had no leg to stand on.

There have been many attempts to damage the prestige of the Sabarimala shrine. The possible reason: there has been a lot of conversion among lower castes, especially in Tamil Nadu, by the judicious use of a Madonna cult. This appeals to the Indian weakness for mother-and-child memes (as in the baby Krishna imagery), and resulted in a rather good harvest. The growth of the Sabarimala pilgrimage halted this particular conversion juggernaut.

First, there was the attempt to physically wipe out the shrine – although that could be attributed to more mundane motives, such as encroaching on the forest land nearby. Some time in the 1950s, before the pilgrimage became popular, Christians actually set fire to the temple.

Then there was the attempt to manufacture a historical Christian presence at Nilakkal, on the route of the pilgrimage. Allegedly, a 2000-year-old wooden cross, installed by the famous Saint Thomas, was unearthed intact. That would have been a genuine miracle – 2000-year-old wood does not survive buried in Kerala’s humid earth; and Thomas had never even come to India (he died in Ortona, Italy, as certified by the Vatican). But it was a good try.

Third, there was the ‘compromising photographs’ ploy. The chief priest of Sabarimala was invited to an apartment in Cochin, where he was coerced into compromising positions, and photographed, by some Christians.

Fourth, there was the “I went to Sabarimala and touched the deity” scam by a film-extra. She claimed that, contrary to custom that women of child-bearing age do not visit the shrine, she had gone there in her twenties, and in the crush of pilgrims, had fallen in the sanctum and touched the murti by accident, thus polluting it. All of which turned out to be untrue. No surprise that she is married to a Christian.

If you put two and two together, it can be seen that there is a Vietnam, or a South Korea, developing in India. These Buddhist-dominated nations were rapidly Christianized in the post-war period; Buddhist monks were seen self-immolating in South Vietnam, in self-sacrificing protest against religious oppression at the hands of Catholic tyrants like Madame Nhu.

Similarly, South Korea, for long a Buddhist-majority nation, was turned in five decades into a Bible-thumping country. In India’s northeast, of course, converted Nagas now demand a separate Christian Naga nation. Violent Christian terrorist groups massacre Hindus – Shanti Tripura, a Hindu monk, was shot dead (ah, the signature AK-47 again) in his temple. The same with Bineshwar Brahma, Hindu Bodo leader and litterateur. Then there are the Hindu Reang tribals, 45,000 of whom were ethnically cleansed from Tripura for refusing to convert.

This pattern of abuse suggests that there is indeed a systematic, sinister plan in action.

Rajeev Srinivasan is a management consultant.

825 words, Jan 8, 2011

The curse of obsequiousness

December 13, 2010

A version of the following was published by DNA on 14th dec 2010 at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_why-we-are-the-world-s-worst-bunch-of-kowtowers_1480850 under the title” Why we are the world’s worst bunch of kowtowers”.

The curse of endemic obsequiousness

 

Rajeev Srinivasan wonders whether Indian officials’ refusal to grow a backbone is an unfortunate national trait

 

The incident in Mississippi was startling: the Indian Ambassador to the US, Meera Shankar, clad in a sari, was pulled out of the security line at an airport and subjected to a humiliating pat-down, apparently because of Transportation Safety Administration guidelines about ‘voluminous clothes’.

 

This, despite the fact that the ambassador produced her diplomatic papers. I suppose one could argue that the Mississippi officers were just doing their job, although it is possible that a little xenophobia, if not a little racism, was thrown in. Somehow I can’t imagine them patting down a white woman in a voluminous bridal dress.

 

But worse, the Indian Embassy tried to hush this incident up. It turns out this is not the first time it has happened to Meera Shankar. The embassy would have done nothing this time too if a local paper hadn’t carried shocked observations by the ambassador’s hosts, who felt she had been humiliated by the pat-down in full public view.

 

It appears, sadly, that the first instinct of Indian officialdom is to swallow insults and to, if possible, insist on not having any semblance of a backbone.

 

Consider that other countries do not ‘go gentle into that good night’, but they ‘rage, rage’. When China felt that the Nobel Peace Prize was an affront to them, they simply instituted a competing Confucius Peace Prize, laughable though it may be. When the US introduced intrusive fingerprinting rules for visitors, Brazil retaliated in kind. When the US creates non-tariff barriers, others retaliate.

 

But India, oh, that’s a different matter. There seems to be a built-in level of obsequiousness. Are Indian diplomats eyeing post-retirement sinecures in the World Bank etc.? But why are diplomats from other countries willing to stand up for their national interests?

 

Perhaps it is because India has never explicitly stated what those national interests are. The late C K Prahalad once wrote an essay on ‘strategic intent’ – that is, a long-range plan with a stretch goal: difficult at the moment, but not impossible if one worked assiduously at it. It is now accepted in business circles that firms that do not have a ‘strategic intent’ are more likely to fail, because there’s nothing like a worthy goal to rally the troops.

 

The Americans have strategic intent: it was paraphrased some years ago as something to the effect of “having 8% of the world’s population, and enjoying 50% of its resources”. China similarly has a strategic intent: they want to be Numero Uno in everything: wealth, military power, soft power. And what is India’s strategic intent? To be a toady to some great power? Can’t India see that it can be more than a banana republic, it can be a great power itself? It can be the bride, not only the bridesmaid.

 

On the contrary, I find a supreme lack of self-confidence. I understand that when the Chinese once sent a demarche to the Indian Embassy past midnight – in diplomatic terms a gross insult – instead of waiting till the next day, the woman ambassador showed up at the Chinese Foreign Office at 2 am! The Chinese would have considered that to be kowtowing.

 

But when a rude Chinese diplomat claimed in Mumbai that India had no business in Arunachal Pradesh, India did not immediately declare him persona non grata and give him 24 hours to clear out of the country. Instead, he was allowed to hang around and make more offensive statements!

 

A Chinese strongman is due to visit India shortly – and some suggested that India should refrain from the Nobel ceremony in case it would jeopardize the Wen Jiaobao visit! Why this walking on eggshells? The gent is not visiting for India’s benefit. If he doesn’t come, it will make no difference – they will continue the dam on the Brahmaputra, their army’s incursions over the LOC, and proliferation to Pakistan.

 

There is no consequence to them for misbehaving with India. We should ensure there some pain to China, and others, for insulting India. That gains respect.

 

Is there a genetic problem among Indians? Are we so used to obsequiousness that it has become the way we think? Perhaps. Going back to the airport security issue, maybe you have seen the lists in Indian airports of those exempt from security checks: the President, the Chief Justice Supreme Court, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, and so on…, and, Robert Vadhera!

 

Yes, this person who holds no public office is the only one specified by name as being exempt from frisking. In all fairness to this gent, I am told he didn’t ask for it, and it was the work of overzealous flunkeys. If that groveling is the prevailing pattern in India, then perhaps it is only fair that Meera Shankar was patted-down.

 

Rajeev Srinivasan is a management consultant.

 

823 words, 11 Dec 2010

 

 

 

A version of this was published by rediff.com on 2nd Dec 2010 at http://www.rediff.com/sports/column/column-rajeev-srinivasan-celebrates-indias-asian-games-glory/20101202.htm

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner


Rajeev Srinivasan wonders about India’s quest for Olympic glory

 

The most vivid moment for me at the Asiad was on the first day of the track-and-field events, when unheralded Preeja Sreedharan and Kavita Raut delivered a magnificent 1-2 finish in the grueling 10,000 meters, taking gold and silver with personal best timings. They followed up later with silver and bronze in the 5000 meter run.

 

As I scoured the news for the next few days, it was a pleasant surprise that there were a number of golds in track events: Sudha Singh won the 3,000 meters steeplechase, Ashwini Akkunji and Joseph Abraham won the women’s and men’s 400 meters hurdles in an unprecedented sweep; and the women’s team in the 4×400 meter sprint, defending champions from 2002 and 2006, won again.

 

I remember the agony and ecstasy of the wins and losses of P T Usha a generation ago, and I have been a fan of track events since then. There is something inherently thrilling about a race: it is the primal sporting event. It is electric, immediate, and direct: there is nothing but raw human talent out there on display. No devices, no second chance, nothing – it’s man-to-man, or woman-to-woman.

 

I wonder if it is a cliché to suggest that running perhaps brings out something primitive in us – the racial memory of trying to outrun a saber-toothed tiger or chase down a woolly mammoth. Incidentally, science suggests that long-distance running is a human specialty – we can keep going at a steady trot for hours because of our efficient cooling systems, whereas the sprint kings of the animal world overheat quickly: they have no stamina.

 

But the sprint events in particular are the glamour events of the games. Even the field events don’t quite come close, because there is the delay – for instance, in the jumps, each individual does their thing, then comes back for another try. Somehow, the foot-race is far more thrilling. The spectator’s adrenaline is pumping: and you are jumping up and down and screaming like an idiot, cheering like there is no tomorrow for your countryman or woman. This is what makes for true fan-dom.

 

And there’s nothing to beat the sprints for high drama. Did anybody watch the women’s 4x400m relay at the Commonwealth Games? It was thrilling, with the first two legs going neck and neck, but then Ashwini Akkunji put on a fine spell of acceleration to blow past a surging Nigerian runner, and anchor Mandeep Kaur made no mistake. Even though I watched the video after I knew the result, I was on my feet, cheering. That was the first athletics gold for India in the Commonwealth after Milkha Singh’s 440 yard win in 1958 – a long wait indeed.

 

I believe the Asiad saw a repeat of the same modus operandi, with the tall Ashwini reprising her heroics in the third leg. I have not yet been able to find a video, but I heard Ashwini powered ahead of the Kazakh runner Margarita (the 800 meters gold medallist), giving Mandeep a cushion to fend off the Kazakh anchor, Olga, the 400 meters gold medallist.

 

For my money, that makes Ashwini Chidananda Akkunji from Udupi, Karnataka, the best athlete of the games: two golds, and excellent teamwork. There is only one other double gold winner for India, Somdev Devvarman in tennis singles and doubles. And Preeja Sreedharan missed a long-distance double gold by a whisker, ending up with one gold and one silver.

 

But how come these athletes are not household names? Why are they not lionized, and how come they do not earn millions appearing in advertisements? I had barely heard of Preeja even in the Malayalam media. These are truly unheralded, unsung heroes. Preeja, I found, works for the Indian Railways. Joseph Abraham is in the Army.

 

Why is that only the Railways and the Armed Forces (they have an Operation Olympics, which is beginning to pay dividends) are the only sponsors of anything other than cricket? Why this disproportionate support for cricketers, who make a thousand times what a track-and-field medallist makes? There is no question this national obsession with cricket is strangling the growth of all other sports. Money talks, and if a gold medal brings in Rs. 1 crore, that will motivate athletes all the more.

 

There was the sad story of a Kerala girl, a nationally ranked rower, committing suicide last year because she could not afford to train. There is also the story of P T Usha’s sports school, which is languishing from lack of monetary support. My good friend Rajan, once on a photography tour through Kerala, just dropped in on the former star athlete, and although she was a gracious hostess, he could tell that she was worried about the school (www.ptusha.org ). One of Usha’s protégés, Tintu Luka, did win a bronze at the Asiad, although more was expected of her. They are now looking at the 2012 Olympics.

 

There is nothing inherently wrong with Indian youth in its sports potential that money and attention will not fix. Communist countries – from East Germany to China – have shown how this will work wonders. The trick is to catch them young, and also to concentrate on events wherein India might have a competitive advantage. For instance, train strapping lads and lasses for boxing, wrestling and weight-lifting: and we already have clusters of excellence in these events.

 

Chess – even though the Asiad finish of just two bronzes was greatly disappointing – is something that India should excel in (after all, we invented it). And let it be said that a lot of the credit for popularizing chess in India goes to just one person – Viswanathan Anand. Other heroes, other sports – for instance Saina Nehwal and Sania Mirza are inspiring others to follow in their footsteps.

 

There are a few events in which brute strength and bulk may go against Indians, who may be smaller and lighter than competitors: this was seen in field hockey when rule changes and new surfaces made the Europeans more competitive. But the young generation of Indian athletes, especially if identified early and trained, may not be physically inferior specimens.

 

And it is true that junior Indian teams do quite well in almost all events around the world. But they do not live up to their promise. I remember years ago when there was talk in the tennis world of the “ABC Powers”: Amritraj, Borg and Connors. The latter went on to great heights, but Vijay Amritraj just faded away.

 

That might be because of an even bigger hurdle: mental toughness and the killer instinct. I have always been astonished by this bromide casually thrown around in India: “The important thing is not to win, but to participate.” This is so utterly ludicrous that I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry when I hear this. Wake up, folks, you are the only people in the world who believe this! Everyone else goes to the Olympics strictly to win.

 

Somehow this dumb socialist idea has taken firm root in India, perhaps India has been so mediocre in everything that we could simply not believe Indians could be world-beaters. In particular, it has been a failure of leadership. India’s leaders have aspired to make India “one among the top ten” or whatever, never to make India Number One. But being Numero Uno is the only goal worth pursuing! Sure enough, since we aspired to too little, was are number ten. Isn’t it shameful that India is only sixth in the Asiad?

 

I don’t think Preeja Sreedharan and Kavita Raut and Vijender Singh went to the Asiad just to participate. They went to win, and more power to them! That’s the attitude that needs to be cultivated, or else our long-distance runners – and others – are going to be lonely indeed: no fans, no cheers, no guts, no glory.

 

The title of this column comes from an excellent short story by the British author Alan Sillitoe. The protagonist, who speaks in the first person if I remember right, is a rebellious teenager who is put in prison school (borstal). There his talent at running attracts attention, and that is his ticket to freedom. But on the day of the big race, when he is far ahead, he deliberately stops just short of the finish line, in a declaration of contempt for the entire system.

 

Fortunately, India’s athletes are not so alienated. Not yet. But they will be, if they continue to be ignored and abused by an uncaring system. They do have a way out: they can, and they will, emigrate to more welcoming lands.

 

1400 words, 30 Nov 2010

 

 

 

 

A version of this appeared on rediff.com in two parts on Sep 1 and Sep 2, 2001.

http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/sep/01/the-real-issue-with-electronic-voting-machines.htm and

http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/sep/02/evm-row-shooting-the-messenger-wont-help.htm

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”:

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.

External references:

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,

http://business-standard.com/india/storypage.php?autono=406109

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