EVM 'hacking': AAP's subversive allegations may carry dangerous consequences for India's democracy

Much has already been written/discussed about Aam Admi Party's relentless effort to raise doubts about the validity of election results conducted through electronic voting machines (EVMs).

As this Firstpost article argues, AAP's attempt to 'hack' a purported 'EVM machine' on the floor of Delhi Assembly was an elaborate ruse to deflect media attention from the corruption charges against Arvind Kejriwal. The plan's brilliance lay in its simplicity. House proceedings provided immunity from lawsuits, live telecast beamed the drama into millions of homes and lack of Opposition inside the House meant uninterrupted propaganda sans questions from media.

If diverting media focus was the immediate goal — and Kejriwal seems to have been successful in snatching the headlines away from Kapil Mishra — the larger rationale behind the slapstick may have been an attempt to quell the hundred voices of dissent bubbling underneath and regain control of a 'revolution' that is collapsing under the weight of its own hypocrisy. The 'movement' that gained political power with a promise to clean the system is being subsumed by the system.

Kejriwal, without a doubt, did a lot of things right. He gave political wings to an idea and within a very short span of time, turned it into a party in ascendancy. AAP generated enough trust in Delhi electorate for it to be trusted a second time with a bigger mandate. It became the main Opposition in Punjab in a time frame few parties can match. It even threatened to fill up the main Opposition space left blank by a receding Congress.

Yet Kejriwal's wrongs far outstrip his rights. To gain national footprint a party must invest in organic growth. The AAP chief became a victim of media hype and spread his resources too thin in his attempt for national overreach. Perhaps his ambition foisted a deadline tighter than time would allow. The result was a string of sobering electoral defeats that went at odds with the fever-pitch of ambition that he himself suffered from and had infused within the rank and file. This is where the germination of EVM allegations lie.

His moral transgressions are, however, of special interest. Kejriwal's 'movement' was a reaction against Congress-isation of Indian politics. However, he began showing signs of that very affliction after coming to power. He systematically dismantled AAP's democratic structure, threw out dissenters and men whom he suspected could be his equals and insulated himself within a fawning coterie. He became AAP and AAP became Kejriwal.

When Kapil Mishra, an erstwhile member of the inner circle, raised allegations of personal corruption against Kejriwal, the party's raison d'etre was threatened. The ruse carried out inside the Assembly on Tuesday was therefore a desperate throw of the dice to stave off an existential crisis.

AAP MLA Saurabh Bhardwaj demonstrating how 'faulty' EVMs function. PTI

AAP MLA Saurabh Bhardwaj demonstrating how 'faulty' EVMs function. PTI

However, while trying to externalise public rejection of his party, it wasn't just the Election Commission that Kejriwal had targetted inside the Delhi Assembly on Tuesday. By staging the melodrama inside the House, AAP managed to lend a greater degree of gravitas to the allegations than any other setting would have allowed. Advertently or inadvertently, Kejriwal is questioning the validity of electoral procedure conducted by an independent, autonomous Constitutional body and is trying to shake the very foundation of Indian democracy. This is not the cut and thrust of political rivalry — part of any democratic process — but a charge that may end up eroding people's faith in democracy.

There are two ways of looking at this subversion. One, AAP is genuinely interested in pointing out the pitfalls of EVM technology and is creating quite a song and dance about it to bring public attention towards a glaring loophole. In effect, they are doing stellar service for Indian democracy. At least, that's what the AAP would like us to believe.

This would have been a convincing statement had it not been for the fact that Kejriwal finds fault with EVMs only when results do not go in his favour. We have seen how quickly his alarmism against machines turned into indifference after the Delhi Assembly elections.

The charge against EVMs is also a clever conflation of two aspects — the theoretical possibility of hacking the machines and the practical feasibility of carrying out such as an act. Let us take the issues one by one.

On the former possibility, the EC has gone out of its way to counter hacking charges. In an elaborate rebuttal, it has stated why tampering the EVMs is practically impossible. Readers interested to know the technical details may follow this link.  Even if there exists a "theoretical possibility" in hacking a standalone machine so secure and disconnected from networks, the practical possibilities of carrying out the hacking is zero. The procedural and administrative securities undertaken by the Election Commission have been meticulously explained in the link above.

Tampering the machines under such a paradigm would not only be a logistical nightmare, for even a party in power to carry out such an audacious act would involve influencing autonomous Constitutional bodies, the entire security establishment and millions and millions of workers at every level of electoral process.

In an old blog post for Pragati, when EVM tampering allegations first surfaced in 2009, K Vidur had written: "Given the manpower-heavy nature of Indian elections (local police personnel, central paramilitary personnel, official observers from outside the state, micro-observers, independent videographers and photographers, media personnel, and hundreds of voters at every booth) and the low capacity of individual EVMs… it will take an army of highly-motivated, centrally mobilised but constituency co-ordinated, election-riggers to influence the outcome at even one constituency. Deploying such an army would reduce to zero the chances of keeping everything completely secret."

It is the second possibility that we must consider while evaluating AAP's tampering allegations. It is trying to bring its own version of anarchism in Indian polity and destabilize the world's largest democracy which has so far defied regional geopolitical trends to show an astonishing compliance with democratic process.

As Prashant Jha writes in Hindustan Times, what differentiates India from Nepal, Bangladesh or Pakistan is the stability of its democratic process and the faith shown by its parties (regardless of ideologies) in the rules of the game.

For the first time since Independence, a political party is trying to tinker with that stability. Arvind Kejriwal owes it to the electorate to show solid, actionable evidence of tampering instead of insinuations and allegations. Else he should be held accountable for his acts of subversion.

Updated Date: May 10, 2017 16:38 PM

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