60 years of Republic and the Election Commission

January 25, 2010

Hearty greetings for the New Year to all friends and well-wishers who have kept in touch with the BJP through this website and the forum. I have been going through the many valuable suggestions you have been sending to us. Commencing with this year’s Republic Day I propose to resume blogging as I used to do in the first half of the year 2009.

The Constitution of India came into force from 26th January 1950. The Election Commission is to launch today, a day prior to Republic Day, its Diamond Jubilee Celebrations. I well recall how cynical many western observers were when India adopted parliamentary democracy after independence. How can a country with such a large population of totally illiterate citizens run a successful democracy? This used to be the main thrust of criticism.

While in most other developing countries which became liberated from colonial rule about the same time as India, and which at the outset adopted democracy as we did, their option did not survive for long. They became victims either of army rule, or some other form of authoritarianism. India can be legitimately proud that despite the many disadvantages with which we started we have functioned as a vibrant and vigorous democracy for all these six decades – the nineteen months Emergency (June 1975 to March 1977) being the only bad patch.

I remember discussing this issue once with late Benazir Bhutto and asking her as to why in the matter of democracy, our two countries – both of whom had experience of identical institutions under British rule – have presented such a sharp contrast. Benazir offered two reasons: firstly, India’s army has been scrupulously apolitical, and secondly, India’s constitution makers have made the Election Commission truly independent of the executive.

I understand that some time next month the Election Commission proposes to convene a meeting of political parties to discuss various issues relating to poll reforms. The Commission also intends to discuss the question of paid news – a form of media corruption, that has besmirched elections lately. I suggest that this meeting should also include in its agenda the misgivings that have been voiced in different parts of the world, and lately in India also, as to the dependability and fairness of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).

It is significant that Germany, technologically, one of the most advanced countries of the world regards EVMs so risky for fair elections as to ban their use altogether. The U.S.A. has not gone that far. However, 32 out of the 50 states have passed laws mandating that EVMs can be used only if there is a paper back up for every vote cast electronically.

In U.S., this technology is referred to as Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT). The VVPAT voting machine produces a paper record of every single vote cast by the voters on the machine. After casting vote on the EVM the voter will examine the physical print out and if satisfied that there is no discrepancy, deposit the vote in a ballot box.

There is legislation pending in the U.S. Congress seeking to make this State law a federal law. I hope the proposed meting of the Election Commission with political party representatives would agree to have a similar law framed by the Indian parliament also. IT experts the world over have been affirming that there is no such thing as a tamper-proof electronic machine! And the paper back up is a cure not only for the mischief of tampering, but also for the problem of machine malfunctioning.

I send my greetings to all our countrymen on this Republic day.

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