VOTERS ARE SMART
Donald Trump was an ungracious winner. Even while victorious, thanks to a quirk of the American electoral system, he complained that millions of illegals had voted for Hillary Clinton, though she had polled nearly two million more valid votes. His churlishness was not entirely unexpected. Trump’s make-up and narcissism explain his cheap jibes.
Nearer home it is hard to make sense of the non-stop wailing by the losers of the recent Assembly polls over the electronic voting machines. If you believe the Mayawatis, Digvijaya Singhs, Arvind Kejriwals and others of their ilk on the Opposition benches, the EVMs stole the election away from them to hand a great victory to their common enemy, Narendra Modi. Of course, it is utter nonsense.
Post-defeat, the campaign of calumny unleashed against the EVMs may well be an attempt to boost the morale of their fast diminishing troops, especially when, within days, the losers, without being given any time to nurse their grievous wounds, were made to plunge into another election. The campaign to elect three new civic bodies in the national capital is already underway. Yes, Delhi has three municipal corporations, an unthinking trifurcation of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi being one of the more audacious follies of an otherwise level-headed Sheila Dikshit in her third and last five-year term as Chief Minister.
However, the concerted denigration of the EVMs seeks to bring into disrepute the one institution that Indians over the years have come to respect for its impartiality and quiet efficiency. The Election Commission at the top might be peopled by superannuated bureaucrats but, once there, it is to their credit that they all come to exemplify model conduct, steering clear of favouritism and any other impropriety. Of course, much of the credit for making the EC a formidable force as a protector of the country’s electoral system belongs to the redoubtable T.N. Seshan.
The same Seshan, as a senior bureaucrat, had been most obsequious, even attracting derision for running behind the vehicle of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, but once he moved to Nirvachan Sadan, he revealed his no-nonsense, nay, ferocious side. The man lauded by the media and hated by the political class in almost equal measure once joked publicly that he ate politicians for breakfast. While that inelegant boast was never tested, the truth is that he did succeed in asserting the authority of the Election Commission. Before him, especially during the Indira Gandhi years, the Election Commission had become a virtual extension of the ruling party.
But Seshan cleaned up the election process to such an extent that he literally took fun out of the elections. Hitherto these were the most colourful festivals, which Indians of all castes and creeds, regions and religions enjoyed immensely. But Seshan turned them into a business-like affair, some would say virtually soulless affairs. While the ostensible use of money and muscle power largely disappeared, or rather got driven underground, the actual process of voting became more transparent. In this, the increasing use of EVMs made a huge contribution.
In the pre-EVM era, initially candidates would buy ballot papers, with individual voters instead of stuffing them in separate boxes kept for each party and/or candidate would pocket it to trade it outside the polling booth for a small fee with whoever was wiling to pay the highest price. Once enough ballots were so procured trusted party workers would go and stuff inside the appropriate boxes. Also, there was widespread intimidation of voters and even seizure of polling booths in far-flung parts of Bihar and UP.
Seshan’s toughness ensured that most blatant abuses of the electoral process virtually disappeared overnight. The model code of conduct, which though lacking legal sanction, also circumscribed the capacity of various contenders to do mischief. Fortunately, the welcome initiative shown by Seshan to reclaim power of the Election Commission from the executive and politicians has been duly built upon further by his successors, even though at the time of appointment all owed their move to EC to the ruling party of the day.
In fact, the introduction of EVMs constitutes the single-most important reform of the electoral system. Despite their denigration by various losers, the truth is that the EVMs have largely insulated against the hijacking of the popular will by usurpers through the use of money or muscle power. To this day, it has not been established even remotely how these stand-alone, lone-chip computers devised by the Indian public sector companies, can be manipulated. Quite aside from the most hazardous job of breaking into the safe houses where these machines are kept, it is hard for anyone to predict the order in which the names of contending candidates in a given constituency would appear on the EVMs on the completion of scrutiny of withdrawal of nominations. Besides, the fact that all parties, including the present ruling party, have at one time or the other blamed the EVMs for their loss, it would further buttress the near-complete incorruptibility of the EVMs.
Yes, there is a lot that is still needs to be done to rid the system of malpractices. But almost all of it lies in the political domain, with the onus on the parties rather than the EC to become more transparent. They often use money and muscle power and resort to intimidation and threats against the vulnerable sections of voters. Even the recent changes in law for political donations are far from perfect, but at least the direction and intent is commendable. For complete transparency in political donations, the maturity required of the political class may yet be absent. Hopefully, in time, corporates will be able to contribute to their favourite parties without fear of punishment by the rival political parties.
In the end, what the critics of the EVMs fail to appreciate is that they actually insult the voters by questioning the popular verdict. Also, they show scant understanding of the growing awareness among the poor and the illiterate voters in the farthermost hamlet in UP or Bihar, thanks to the near-universal reach of the media and, above all, due to the ever deepening of the democratic process. Each election serves as a tutorial for ordinary voters, loosening the hold of caste and religion and germinating the seeds of superiority of individual self-interest over group interests in the democratic exercise. In short, the losers should move on, instead of becoming a butt of ridicule.
WHAT IS CBI UP TO?
At one level, you ought to welcome the rather belated CBI exertions to ensure that L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and a few other top leaders of the Ram Janambhoomi movement are brought to justice for the demolition of the disputed structure in Ayodhya in 1992. But at another level, the belated CBI activism in the case, when Advani and Co. were cleared of the conspiracy charges by the Allahabad High Court in 2010, seems suspect. Is there more than meets the eye in the CBI appeal to appeal against the clean chit given to Advani by the High Court? We hope not, though we cannot rule out altogether.