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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 28 New Delhi June 29, 2019

The ‘Modi’fied India 2019

Sunday 30 June 2019, by K.P. Fabian

All of us in India, including the BJP, have been stunned by the unprecedented and unanticipated landslide victory of Modi who like a juggernaut swept across the electoral landscape smashing everything standing in its way. The Opposition has been traumatised and there are feeble signs of the defeated parties endeavouring to recover. The civil society has shown more resilience.

Obviously, no single factor can explain what has happened. So far our media have not shown much investigative vigour in finding out how and why Modi won. In fact, we need to ask why a substantial section of the media is playing such a meek and obedient role. Is it only because the media is owned by the corporate sector that seeks favours from the incumbent government?

Immediately after the results were announced on May 23, many a media pundit came out with the same explanation: It was not arithmetic, but chemistry that mattered. Two or three days later, Modi himself came out saying that chemistry triumphed over arithmetic. Wonder whether it was the BJP propaganda managers who coined this thought of chemistry versus arithmetic and passed it on to the media. Will any investigative journalist look into this?

Modi is right in claiming that chemistry triumphed over arithmetic in a sense he might not have imagined. The Election Commission (EC) has experienced serious problems with counting. Media have reported that going by the figures given by the EC on its website, more votes were counted than polled. The EC website does not answer the question how many votes were polled and how many were counted. A report speaks of a huge discrepancy, with the votes polled at 607,361,415 and the votes counted at 613,195,989. The discrepancy works out to 5,834,574 equal to 0.96 per cent and surely calls for a clarification from the EC and, thereafter, if need be, an investigation from the media and think-tanks. The EC has not so far responded to requests for an explanation for this glaring discrepancy.

What is more disquieting is that the EC has permitted repeated violation of its Model Code of Conduct (MCC) by a particular candidate. The EC should know that all candidates are equal and that even the incumbent Prime Minister should be treated on an equal footing as a candidate.

The EC is supposed to remain vigilant about violation of MCC and to take action. We do not know whether the EC has any mechanism for tracking violations. But, surely, it can take action promptly when violations are brought to its notice. As a matter of record, the EC refused to take any action when Dr E.A.S. Sarma, a former Secretary to the Government of India, wrote as many as seven letters on violations by Modi and Shah. The EC did not have the courtesy even to acknowledge the receipt of the letters from a distinguished retired civil servant. If a Martian observer concludes that it is one of the duties of the EC to ensure the re-election of the incumbent what good counter-argument can we give?

Coming to the factors propelling Modi’s victory, Pulwama and Balakot played a crucial role as he himself asked for votes referring to the two. The CRPF has an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) which requires that “ROP (Road Opening Party) secures a particular stretch of a road by sanitising them from mines, bombs etc.” The attack occurred within an area of the CRPF’s responsibility. What did the CRPF do to “sanitise” the road?

It is shocking that nobody, including the Opposition, has raised the need for an investigation into the serious security lapses involved in sending out a convoy of 78 buses carrying 2500 CRPF personnel without any security precautions. We cannot expect the Modi- 2 Government to order an enquiry that should have been ordered on day one.

An eminent historian, approaching 90, has expressed the view that the Pulwama-Balakot reminds him of the 1933 Reichstag Fire in Germany. On February 27, 1933, someone set fire to the German Parliament; Hitler gained enormously in the election of March 5, 1933. To this day, we do not know who set fire to the Parliament. A Dutch Communist by the name of Marinus van der Lubbe was caught and it was announced that he had confessed before he was executed. To this day, we do not know who set fire to the building.

In ancient Rome when there was no clue as to who might have committed a murder, they used to raise the question: Cui bono? (Who benefitted?). The civil society should demand a judicial investigation into Pulwama by a commission headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge. We cannot be sure that the Opposition, yet to recover fully from its trauma, will bother to ask for it.

Now, let us list some of the positive reasons for Modi’s victory. Above all, his thespian skills come to one’s mind. After Zulfiqar Ali Butto, Modi is the most accomplished thespian on the sub-continental political scene. Second, the delivery, and even more importantly, the noise he made about it. The UPA did a lot, but was not as industrious as the NDA in publicity. Third, the grass-roots level reach of the RSS, the most powerful electoral machine in India, and, perhaps, in the whole world. Its members have a dedication unmatched by the workers of the Opposition. A panna pramukh keeps in regular contact with, say, 100 families. If the family is short of money to take a sick child to the doctor, the pramukh will pass on an envelope with cash without being asked and without mentioning the election. Modi made it into a presidential election with no declared candidate against him. The last, but not necessarily the least, is that without Pulwama-Balakot Modi would have scored less, and without the approval of the EC he could not have made use of Pulwama-Balakot. It is well known that a member of EC wanted to send a note of disapproval to candidate Modi. In flagrant violation of natural justice and well-established procedure, the other two refused to record the dissenting note.

Let us now look at what is in store for India. Modi 2 will push forward with the re-writing of history in textbooks and elsewhere. It will continue appointing the ideologically loyal ones to institutions without bothering too much about qualifications as it has done with the Jawaharlal Nehru University ignoring protests from the faculty. Institutions such as EC, CBI, ED (Enforcement Directorate) will be filled with the ‘right’ people. The bureaucracy will surrender with alacrity except for a few who will be suitably dealt with by the powers that be.

There is a possible scenario we should look at. The Modi-Shah team gets Articles 370 and 35 A relating to Kashmir deleted; the militants in Kashmir protest and even resort to violence; Delhi sends a K.P.S. Gill ‘to do a Punjab in Kashmir’. A section of the Muslim community resorts to violence. When State elections are held, the Opposition parties come out victorious as the voter concludes that the Modi-Shah duo is ruining the country. There will be more than one India, one ruled by the BJP and the other by the non-BJP parties.

However, there is a caveat. If the EC continues to favour the BJP, and if the EVMs are manipulated, the BJP will win all the State elections.

Let us look at the likelihood of EVM tampering. The EC has claimed that the EVM cannot be tampered with. This claim is not convincing. It is absurd and arrogant for a human being to claim that he has designed a machine beyond tampering by another human being. Any software system can be tampered with.

A friend of mine, who was in the intelligence service, has told me of an encounter he had with a fellow passenger on a flight from Paris to Ottawa. They were the only passengers in the first class. The man went on drinking non-stop without eating. My friend told him that he should eat and stop drinking as otherwise he would have to pay through his nose to the doctors. The man retorted that not he but his insurance would pay to the doctors. Asked what his profession was, the man proudly said that he ‘made and unmade Presidents and Prime Ministers’. Pressed further, he said that he had a patent on an EVM.

The key question is whether an EVM can take instructions. For example, by inserting a code, say, 543673, will every third vote go to the candidate listed second? Is it possible to delete votes of a candidate and add the same to another candidate?

Even more important is the question: how does a voter know that his vote has been correctly recorded? In 2005, the German Constitutional Court banned the use of EVMs in use since 1998 for the same reason unless a parallel system was developed where the voter could be sure that his vote was correctly recorded. Germany and many other European democracies have stopped the use of EVMs.

After the UPA won the general election in 2009, L.K. Advani raised questions about the reliability of EVMs. In 2013, responding to Dr Subramanian Swami’s petition the Supreme Court ordered the use of VVPATs (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail), but unfortunately the Court did not say that the VVPATs should be counted in all cases. This was a serious omission and defeated the purpose of having VVPATs installed at a cost of hundreds of crores.

The EC was adamantly opposed to the use of VVPATs as it dogmatically held that its EVM system was perfect and not capable of further improvement. The EC decided to count the VVPATs only for one Assembly constituency for the Lok Sabah election. The number of assembly constituencies is over 4,000. The number of polling booths is about 10.35 lakhs. In short, by working on a sample of less than 0.4 per cent the EC claimed a level of confidence of 99.999 per cent, an unheard of statistical absurdity.

When the matter was taken to the Supreme Court by a group of three including me, the EC argued unconvincingly that counting more VVPATs would delay the announcement of results by days. In conversation with the Constitutional Conduct Group the EC claimed that more verification would cost more money. Obviously, the EC does not hold that the credibility of the electoral system is important enough to justify more expenditure and slight delay in declaring results. Incidentally, the EC might note that in the recently held EU Parliamentary Elections held in 28 countries, ballot paper was used and results were declared in days.

The Supreme Court raised the number of EVMs to be cross-verified with VVPATs to five per Assembly constituency, which works out to two per cent of the total polling booths, grossly inadequate from a statistical point of view, not to speak of the credibility of the process. The EC rejected without any good reason the proposal of the Opposition parties to count the VVPATS first, and thereafter, to count only the VVPATs in case of discrepancy. The EC’s allergy to VVPATs needs to be treated. In our set-up only the Supreme Court can do it. But, will it?

The EC met the President on May 25 at 12.30 pm and handed over the final results. Presumably, the EC would have met before that to finalise the results. Had the EC completed the counting of VVPATs before announcing the final results? Apparently, no. The Wire carried a story on the 26th quoting EC that the VVPATs counting was still going on and that no discrepancy had been reported till then. Why was the hurry to contravene its own rules and declare the results, if The Wire is correct? The EC’s website is user- unfriendly and till May 31 did not say whether the counting of VVPATs had been completed. Obviously, here is a candidate for the Guinness Book of Records for deliberately cultivated opacity.

The new Cabinet has taken over. Just as those who voted for BJP voted for Modi with or without even knowing the name of the candidate, it does not matter much who the Ministers are, as all decision-making is concentrated in the PMO. However, it is worth mentioning that the Home Minister has publicly referred to fellow human beings as ‘termites’ and the HRD Minister honestly believes that e-mail and plastic surgery were prevalent in ancient India.

A democracy needs an Opposition and a Parliament needs a Leader of Opposition. In 2014, there was no recognised Leader of the Opposition as the Congress Party had less than 10 per cent of the strength of the House. That was a legally wrong decision as P.D.T. Achary, former Secretary General of the Lok Sabha, has correctly pointed out. In the 1977 Act on Salary & Allowances of Leaders of Opposition in Parliament it is clearly stipulated that the Speaker has to recognise the leader of the largest Opposition party as the Leader of Opposition. Let us hope that the Congress will stake its claim.

Where do we go from here? Is this the end of the idea of India enshrined in the 1950 Constitution? There is no good reason to be despondent. These are passing clouds. But, these clouds will not pass away on their own. They have to be chased away. Is the civil society able and willing to fight for the idea of India advocated by Gandhi, Nehru, and Tagore? In conclusion, let us invoke Tagore:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

(Courtesy: countercurrents.org)

Ambassador K. P. Fabian is a diplomat who served in the Indian Foreign Service between 1964 and 2000, during which time he was posted to Madagascar, Austria, Iran, Sri Lanka, Canada, Finland, Qatar and Italy. During his time in the diplomatic service, he spent three years in Iran (from 1976 to 1979), witnessing the Iranian Revolution first hand.

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