Atanu Dey On India's Development

Hang the Spoil-sport Hari Prasad

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If you show up the people in government in a way that threatens their very existence in government, then you can be assured that those people in government will waste no time in fixing you real good. Hari Prasad and his colleagues showed that electronic voting machines are not tamper-proof. This should come as no surprise. Nothing in the universe is tamper-proof (including the universe according to those who insist that their On True God™ frequently fixes the universe to suit their moods.) So what’s all the fuss about?

First the facts, or whatever goes for facts as reported by the media. Hari Prasad, et al, claimed that EVMs can be compromised. Here’s a short video.

The Indian election authorities claim that the EVMs are tamper-proof. That’s as stupid a claim as any made by government officials. It is impossible to make anything perfectly safe. It cannot even be theoretically done, leave alone achieve it in practice. In the face of all contrary evidence, if someone keeps insisting that EVMs are not vulnerable, the implications are fairly serious. Here are four conjectures.

First, these people are not too clued into reality. They don’t know how the world works. These people are in positions of responsibility and power. That’s not a good thing.

Second, these people are not that stupid and know that EVMs are vulnerable to tampering. But they think that the people are stupid and gullible, and therefore they can lie to the people with impunity.

I don’t doubt the stupidity and gullibility of the average voter. Still, officials should not lie. Simple ethics and basic morality demands that they tell the truth as they know it.

Third, they know that EVMs are not fool-proof but they know that there are sufficient checks and balances in place that it does not materially affect the outcomes of elections. If that is so, perhaps they should honestly make that case to the people. But perhaps they hold the people in such contempt that they believe that the people will not be able to appreciate this simple argument.

Fourth, perhaps the officials want the EVMs to be NOT tamper-proof. They want backdoors and traps built into them so that when needed, the officials can fix election.

How would the officials behave if the last conjecture is true?

A. 100% Safe. They will loudly proclaim at every instance that the EVMs are 100 percent safe. Check.

B. Secrecy. They will insist that the EVMs’ software code cannot be made public. Check.

C. Silence. They will try to gag anyone who shows conclusively that the EVMs are not 100 percent safe. Check.

D. Off to the gulag. They will arrest anyone who steps out of line. Check.

If the officials really wanted to have a good tamper-resistant EVM, how would they behave?

A. They will tell people that nothing is 100 percent tamper-proof.

B. They will make the source code of the software open to public scrutiny.

C. They will seek out people who can point out the points of failure.

D. They will move quickly to fix any problems found in the EVMs.

I had been following the EVM controversy for a while but it was just a side-show for me. It is only after Hari Prasad got arrested that I started realizing that there is much more to this than meets the eye.

If the current government has planned to rig the elections using those EVMs, then it cannot afford people like Hari Prasad going about blowing the whistle. If EVMs are not used, it will be hard for the government to rig elections — they will have to go the old fashioned way of employing thugs to capture booths and ballot boxes.

Mind you, it is not that the government does not have sufficient money to pay thugs and that there are not enough thugs to do the government’s bidding. The Congress is a past master of the game. Who knows how many elections they have rigged before. I don’t.

Anyway, times have changed. It is a modern world of internets, and mobile phones, and electronic books, and mp3 players, and facebooks and linkedins, and tweets and blogs, and what have you. It’s a digital world out there. You have to keep up with the times.

You can no longer take a chance with booth capturing and fixing the voter registration lists. EVMs are the perfect (alright, not the perfect but pretty close to being perfect) way to rig elections. A few clicks of the mouse, a few well-kept secret trapdoors in the code, and voilà, you have won yourself the right to rule the people and steal from the public.

Paranoid? Moi? Perish the thought.

But wait a minute. Why are they arresting a guy for borrowing an EVM? They did not bother to arrest anyone when the theft was in thousands of crores (equivalent to billions of dollars). So why now.

The answer is simple. It is now because the billions of dollars stolen help those in the government. After all they are the government. But one single EMV in the hands of the competent can throw a spanner in the whole rotten works. That you cannot have.

“String up the bastard,” is what the powers that be cry.

Additional links: (post script)

1. Indian EVM.

2. Save Indian Democracy.

3. EC defends arrest of engineer who exposed EVM flaws.

  • http://oshantomon.blogspot.com Sambaran Mitra

    Great blog. Thanks.
    I still have faith/hope in our democraZy. This Hariprasad incident is one of the biggest blows in recent times.
    The good vibes:
    o Hariprasad is not helpless (yet). It seems he has the wherewithal to fight the situation in courts.
    o What Hariprasad has shown affects our political parties. They will not let the matter rest easily.
    o MSM (main stream media) has reported about this incident.
    The bad vibes:
    o This chap should have been awarded instead of hounded.
    o Main stream media seems to be burying the news deep below. If MSM is bought off, Hariprasad’s and democracy’s struggle is going to get tougher.

  • haha

    The issue is a serious one but the conclusion too simplistic. If the government were indeed so seriously rigging the outcomes, why would they cut it so fine? Why are they not winning across the country?

  • Shikha

    @haha: you really need the answer to your question? They are smart, not stupid. Alas! They apply their smartness in areas not related to public interests.

  • jun

    I shall ignore the Troll “Haha” comment which begins with a false “if”… nobody said that there WAS rigging (verb, past tense). The question is, whether tamperable or not (adjective).

    Prasad did the right thing. If ECI with-held access to the machine, it was his privileged duty as a public interest researcher and citizen of Free India to prove the tamperability. He had only temporarily used the machine and did not damage it, and has returned it. The whole charge is bogus and designed to harass.

    Somebody who tried to point out flaws in the system is a whistle blower. Hari Prasad may not have used RTI, but he needs to be protected by the Courts as a whistle blower.

    There is hardly any news in the media about this, save the Times of India crying “thief, thief!”. This tells me that India is in peril.

    Also, watch how the Indian government is going after RIM and Skype in the name of law enforcement. Watch for greater things to come, whistle blowers !

  • jun

    As a beginning, Indians should demand electronic voting WITH paper trail.

    This is a very reasonable demand. You may know that Germany and many other countries have abandoned electronic voting. But those are civilized countries where things like booth capturing are unheard of. India is still in the dark ages, so we have to be creative.