Only way to go: Treat my vote as my bank account

Written by Haider Abbas | Published on: May 14, 2017
 The Central Government has finally approved EVMs with VVPAT but will it suffice?



Victory has a hundred fathers, defeat is an orphan, goes the saying. An unprecedented new political situation has risen in UP this time with BJP and its allies romping home with 325/403 seats in the state Assembly.
 
How did BJP manage such a landslide? 
 
Part of the answer lies in its comfortable majority of 272 in Parliament and the anti-incumbency vote against the BSP and SP governments of the last decade. 
But how demonetisation helped the BJP is the real miracle.
 
It is now an open-secret that the total amount of currency in circulation which was to be deposited in banks from November 8-Decemeber 30 last year has been far exceeded. The RBI is maintaining a deafening silence on the issue despite numerous RTI queries. It is hiding behind the plea of national-security to stonewall the queries.
 
The fact is that demonetisation has benefitted everyone. The fat cats who had hoarded currency got it deposited in ever-so-eager banks and with jewellers, paying a commission as high as 30%. Thus, it won't be out of place to conclude in retrospect that perhaps the entire exercise was to convert black money as well as fake currency into white-money. 
 
Demonetisation also eased the space constraints for major hoarders as now only 50 notes of Rs 2,000 can make a lakh. Fake currency notes have once again started surfacing. So is it just a vicious cycle?
 
Many died in bitter cold while standing for hours during the 50 days campaign and yet people voted heavily in favour of BJP. In UP millions of jobless, unemployed, under-employed labourers and daily wagers etc stood in lines to exchange one lakh rupees for their masters on daily basis, and were paid Rs 5,000 towards “service charges”.
 
Millions of them deposited their masters’ money in their personal accounts, opened new accounts at the behest of their masters. Jan Dhan Yojna accounts saw a huge spike in deposits and their masters’ money is now sitting in their personal accounts.
 
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that he would find some way (in order to make this money their own) and this fired the popular imagination. A poor man who never had Rs 1,000 in his account now had lakhs in it and if he could manage to keep it as his own he would be indebted to Modi forever.
 
Now the deadline of March 31 is over and obviously the masters will seek return of their money. That’s when it would be most helpful to have a BJP government at the helm to look to for help when complaining to the police about harassment. It is anybody’s guess that an avalanche of such defaulters is in the offing.
 
Thus, Modi has brought happiness to the poor who were also elated over the fact that the rich and middle-class had been brought down to their level, made to stand in the same queues as them.
 
This together with the BJP’s anti-Muslim politics, the Central government’s Urjaa Yojna, representation to non-Jatav and non-Yadav communities, anti-incumbency against SP coupled with its ignominious in-house fighting, tilt of the upper castes towards BJP is what the Assembly results are all about.
 
BSP was vociferous in its opposition to demonetisation while SP could only put up a timid response.
 
Another factor which has become even more relevant after the civic elections in Delhi is that of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). The Modi government has finally approved equipping EVMs with Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) following sustained opposition from all parties. 
 
BSP supremo Mayawati has gone to Supreme Court which has given four-week’s time to Chief Election Commission (CEC) to reply. It is ironic that this initiative should have come from Mayawati and not the outgoing CM Akhilesh Yadav. Instead, the latter attended the March 18 oath ceremony of Yogi Adityanath while his father Mulayam Singh Yadav whispered in Modi’s ears triggering speculation.
 
Did we find Mayawati present in Akhilesh Yadav swearing-in ceremony in 2012? Certainly not.
 
The results from the UP elections have baffled everyone. Even the BJP had not imagined such a landslide victory. People’s confidence in the voting system through EVM has reached a new low, particularly after demonetisation when people have started to believe that anything is possible with BJP at the helm. 
 
In the aftermath of 2014 results, I had in my personal capacity spoken to numerous ministers in UP, suggesting that they should insist that 2017 Assembly polls be with ballot paper. Now it is time to get rid of EVMs or else whatever little semblance of representative power the masses have, that too once every five-years, is slated to be doomed.
 
Polls are no less than an examination paper where everyone has the right to see the answer script.
 
EVMs have no takers but our CEC seems committed to the sarkari line. The Supreme Court of Germany in a landmark judgement in March 2009 held that “electronic voting is unconstitutional because the average citizen could not be expected to understand the exact steps involved in the recording and tallying of votes by EVMs”.
 
EVMs are banned in Germany. They have been abandoned in Holland and Ireland. Technologically advanced Japan and Singapore stick to ballot paper polls. But our CEC continues to insist that EVMs are tamper-proof and the best way out for voting.
 
There have been hundreds of complaints after the advent of EVMs in 2004, but EC seems unconcerned towards over the possibility of ‘insider fraud’ by any of the thousands of authorised personnel having access to EVMs.
 
These include Indian developers and manufactures of the machines, the vendors supplying the components including the foreign companies who have been assigned the security sensitive job of fusing software on to the ‘masked’ microchips sourced from them, the local officials who have the custody of the machines before and after the elections etc. 
 
The issue came to light again recently when the chief election officer in Madhya Pradesh, Saleena Singh (April 2,) found VVPAT machines dispensing only BJP votes! (The allegation reportedly turned out to be untrue. Editors).
 
All such hoaxes have been well documented along with field reports in the book, Democracy at Risk, by GVL Narsimha Rao now freely available on internet. The book clearly indicates that there is room for strong suspicion of insider fraud.
 
This 230 -page book is a minefield of information and should be available in every political party office in India. The book had been the object of discussion in our Parliament too and BJP has castigated it to be just a personal opinion of LK Advani who has written its foreword.
 
BJP has ready-made answers for everything. It won from the Muslim majority seat of Deoband and pat came its tailor-made reply that Muslim women voted for BJP. Should BJP also know that Muslim women are in other constituencies too? 
 
Out of 86 reserved seats in UP, BJP and its allies won 77. The votes of Scheduled Castes (SC) and Muslims are well above 50% on these seats, hence, Jatavs - the traditional vote bank of BSP – presumably voted for BJP. This is where the alarm bells rang for Mayawati.
 
It is high time that elections are made fool-proof where confidence and transparency for every citizen is guaranteed. Even VVPAT is not enough as my submission is that EVMs should have two-prints, one deposited with CEC and the other provided to the voter, with an assigned number duly stamped and signed by the presiding officer, just like how it happens in a bank where a receipt is given on submitting an amount.
 
My vote is my trust and is like my bank account.  All political parties should unanimously put up a joint representation to CEC to stop elections in phases too as given the onslaught of social-media online media blitzkrieg and a fight for TRP by news channels the hapless masses are left susceptible to any kind of polarisation.
 
These days elections have become a month long business. We citizens can wait for a day or a two for results to be declared after manual accounting of every vote.
 
Peoples trust is at risk. The whole project of voting is becoming a humbug. People’s confidence in the system needs to be restored and this is what needs to be the prime objective of CEC, particularly when 'election hacking' has gone commercial as an article by an Israeli writer Yael Even Or in Tablet MagazineDid An Israeli Company Hack Zimbabwe Elections? That says it all.
 
The writer is UP State Information Commissioner