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M G Devasahayam IAS (Retd) D. Thomas Franco Chairman Convenor
[Jointly issued with Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG) of former Civil Servants]
3M (Machine, Money, Media) challenges to India’s Electoral Democracy
Bengaluru, 2 July 2022:
Citizens Commission on Elections (CCE), constituted by CCG and People First which are representative groups of concerned civil society members have come out with evidence/research-based Reports and a book titled ‘Electoral Democracy? An inquiry into the fairness and integrity of Elections in India’.
Justice Madan B Lokur, former Supreme Court Judge, is its Chairman and Wajahat Habibullah, former Chief Information Commissioner of India, Vice-Chairman. The book, which is a compilation of depositions, papers and articles from well-informed, distinguished writers with expertise in various fields, brings out important aspects regarding Electoral Democracy. The book also contains specific chapters on issues relating to Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) with inputs from eminent computer scientists. The book is edited by M G Devasahayam who is Coordinator, CCE and Convener, Forum of Electoral Integrity and published by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Eminent Journalist, Writer, and Documentary Maker.
In his foreword Justice Madan B Lokur writes, “Modern India’s greatest pride is that it is not only the world’s largest, but also the most vibrant democracy which ensures people’s participation in governance at the local, state, and national levels. At the national level, the Election Commission of India (ECI) is mandated to ensure that this participation is truly representative, transparent, and free.” However, over the last few years, there is ample material in public domain questioning the sanctity of the electoral process mainly due to the severe flaws and misuse of EVMs.
M G Devasahayam, IAS (Retd) in his address said, “Despite being projected as world’s largest democracy there are three M’s that challenge India’s electoral system/process today, namely ‘machine power’, ‘money power’ and ‘media power’ that threaten the fairness and integrity of its Electoral Democracy.”
Elaborating on the machine (EVM) voting and (VVPAT) counting Dr Subhasis Bannerji, Professor of Computer Science, IIT, Delhi and Member CCE said that EVM voting does not comply with basic and essential requirements of ‘Democracy Principles’ i.e., each voter having the direct knowledge and capacity to verify that his or her vote is cast-as-intended; recorded-as-cast and counted-as-recorded. It also does not provide provable guarantees against hacking, tampering and spurious vote injection. Thus, elections must be conducted assuming that EVMs could be tampered with, and results manipulated thereby hijacking the will and mandate of the People. Due to the absence of end-to-end (E2E) verifiability, the present EVM system is not verifiable and therefore is unfit for democratic elections.
These findings were given by a panel of national and international experts who deposed before CCE which included Ronald L. Rivest, Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA; J. Alex Halderman, Professor, Computer Science and Engineering, University of Michigan, USA; Poorvi L. Vora, Professor, Computer Science, George Washington University, USA; Philip B. Stark, Professor of Statistics, University of California, Berkeley, USA; Vanessa Teague, Associate Professor, School of Computing and Information Systems, University of Melbourne, Australia; Sandeep Shukla, Professor, Computer Science and Engineering, IIT Kanpur; R. Ramanujam, Professor, Computer Science, Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai and several others. Depositions were coordinated by Prof. Subhasis Bannerji.
Referring to money power, Anjali Bharadwaj, Co-convener, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information said, “The fast-rising economic oligarchy in the country, threatening India as a welfare state is the direct fallout of this extreme criminal and money power in elections which is the fountainhead of all corruption in the country. It compromises the integrity of democracy in multiple ways: it raises the entry barriers to politics; excludes honest candidates and parties; leads to corruption and big money controlling the state; distortion of policy making in wasteful, inefficient, and anti-democratic directions; and exacerbation of polarization. The government, using Money Bill route to bypass Rajya Sabha, introduced electoral bonds that have increased opaqueness and consolidated the role of big money in electoral politics, giving the ruling party a huge advantage by destroying a level playing field.”
On media power, Paranjoy Guha Takurta, says, “India’s mediascape has undergone a major transformation with the exponential growth in the use of the internet across the world and also in India. A very substantial section of the mainstream and mass media in the country has become excessively supportive of the ruling dispensation. Despite guidelines and codes, ECI did not take note of the many media violations–particularly by the ruling party. ECI failed to curb fake news online before and during the elections. Procrastination, silence, and inaction characterized ECI’s responses even to serious violations of Model Code of Conduct and media code.”
Machine voting and counting poses clear and present danger to the integrity of India’s electoral process and therefore its democracy. Large number of electorate have expressed serious doubts about its tamperability, hackability and vulnerability for injection of spurious votes. Several representations on this have been sent by civil society organisations and individuals to the ECI that have evoked no response whatsoever. Latest is the Memorandum sent on 2 May 2022 signed by 112 Technical Professionals, Academicians and former senior Civil Servants representing a cross section of Civil Society seeking clarification on seventeen burning issues on EVM voting and counting that have been bothering the experts and the electorate for a long time. This was followed by a reminder fifteen days later. Yet, there has been no acknowledgement, let alone any response.
ECI’s loyalty does not seem to lie with India’s Constitution or “We the People” but somewhere else. This spells danger to its electoral integrity and Democracy. Hence, we are placing the issue before the People of India.