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October 26, 2010

India After Gandhi – Ramachandra Guha

Filed under: book, election, India, politics, social change — Tags: , , — neosurya @ 06:32

A must read for anyone remotely interested in Indian democracy. Guha does not go left, right, center, or anywhere else except trudge along the path of Indian democracy from 1947 all the way up-to 2000 (The date the book was published). Where the events demanded, he also went a little bit before 1947, for example to explain how the Lahore convention of the Congress was where the Muslim League was born. The references make for more interesting reading, but I followed up only a few of them.

Some reviewers say that the book should have had some analysis of events. But this book was meant to have a historical or journalistic flavor, and getting into an analysis mode is incredibly academic in nature. Most books out there wax eloquent on their preferred political leanings. Once Indian historians start writing an analysis, they end up making holier-than-thou statements. The reader is hopelessly lead into a particular view point, and the event itself is lost in the melee. Very few tell the story as it happened, and in words that the common man can understand. Guha rises up to the occasion in this book.

The book reads fast, and I could not put it down once I had picked it up. This may not be the book for individuals seasoned in contemporary Indian history. They may already be familiar with most its contents. However, this would be the book I shall recommend my daughter to read instead of the history textbooks that muddle our brain cells in school.

April 29, 2009

Political movement in India

Filed under: election, India, indian elections, politics, social change — neosurya @ 16:16

The Mumbai edition of the Times of India carried an interesting editorial by Tarun Vijay, the director of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation (“Ideology is a casualty of today’s politics of expediency”). The full article can be accessed here; an excerpt from the article is below:

With the advent of the politics of expediency, a Gandhian ashram of ideas was turned into a mandi trading in votes, relegating ideological diversity to irrelevance and irreverence. Since political parties were no more than a conglomeration of certain interest groups, even ideology was defined in terms of material activity such as construction of roads and supply of energy. Political power became a goal in itself, not a vehicle to achieve greater purposes and execute visionary plans.

Though post-1947, there were stray cases of corruption in high places, like the jeep scandal and the Mundhra case, these were small yet created a furore. The guilty were not honoured in political circles and people would rise in revolt and revulsion against them. Not any more. With the breaking of the Congress and the games played with institutions like the judiciary and bureaucracy, Indira Gandhi institutionalised political corruption. It became accepted, normal behaviour for a politician to treat the issue as a non-issue. Self-interest and winning elections became goals in themselves; even a semblance of virtuous public behaviour became a matter for jokes and mockery.

Hence those who people Parliament, with charges of murder, extortion and corruption against them, become page-one politicians and secular symbols that define ‘grassroots’ politics. Except the Left and the Hindu right, there is hardly any political group that can claim to run on the basis of some ideological assertion and functional democratic inner-party norms. If it is father-and-son in the National Conference, the PDP is run by the Muftis, the BSP by Mayawati, the Samajwadi Party by Mulayam Singh, the DMK by M Karunanidhi and Stalin, the AIADMK by Jayalalithaa, the Congress by Sonia Gandhi and the Biju Janata Dal by Naveen Patnaik. The danger of such a fragmented polity becomes starker in times of crisis.

We are a nation surrounded by a failed state like Talibanised Pakistan (Hillary Clinton’s statement about Pakistan abdicating to the Taliban is unprecedented and also an alarm bell for New Delhi), Bangladesh where jihad churns, Nepal where the Maoists are messing around with the system, Sri Lanka which is mishandling the Tamil issue and, above all, China which looks over our shoulders. Add these factors to internal terror wars. If, despite these problems, we have not only survived but a small section has marched ahead, the credit must solely go to the resilience of the Indian people.

This is more reason why political parties like the freedom team of India (FTI) are needed. FTI aims to first create a set of policies that its members will agree upon. And then, and only then will FTI launch a political entity with a clear set of policies to be implemented. I urge interested readers to take a look at the site, and participate.

At the very least, participation in the democratic process by Indian citizen is urgent at this hour. Unfortunately, this is not happening, as seen by poor voter turnout.

April 23, 2009

V voted.

Filed under: election — neosurya @ 22:01

Jyostna, and I cast our vote today. I had checked our names in the voters list the previous night (ID 927 and 928). Our polling booth was a short walk form the house; we reached there at about 7:15 AM. Folks streamed in early on; there was a short line. Some people were listed wrongly in different polling booths, but at least in the morning voting seemed normal.

Jyostna trying to find our names on the list.

Jyostna trying to find our names on the list. Folks from different parties setup tables outside the polling centers to assist voters.

The polling center for our locality is in the background (Betheny school).This was after voting.

The polling center for our locality is in the background (Betheny school).This was after voting.

Two is a party.

Two is a party.

April 20, 2009

Comparison of electronic voting machines: India and elsewhere.

Filed under: election — neosurya @ 07:17

First off, Invisible ink in election ballots: In… USA, Where else??? The Chicago Reader carried an article about an incident during elections in USA, where the election judges thought that voters had been given invisible pens. Apparently, voters are given pens to write on ballots. When some of the pens given to voters did not work, one of the election judges (Equivalent to election officer in India) had said:

“It’s a magic pen that uses invisible ink.”

Of course, the election judge was wrong and had goofed up big time. The full article is here. Much worse happens in our country to disrupt elections. However, the system “electronic voting machine” that was introduced in 1982 (How many of you were born then!!!) is simple, effective, and has drawn much praise. Here are websites comparing electronic voting techniques in India with those in USA: [1], [2]. This site outlines some of the advantages of the Indian EVM, and one of them is a pretty innovative method to nullify ballot stuffing:

Bogus voting can be greatly reduced by the use of EVMs. In case of ballot paper system, a bogus voter can stuff thousands of bogus ballot papers inside the ballot box. But, an EVM is programmed to record only five votes in a minute. This will frustrate the bogus voters.

The Indian EVM now has Braille support. Dieblod systems that are used in the USA have been criticised here. An article in wired speaks about the eVACS (Electronic Voting and Counting System) that the Australian Government uses an electronic voting machine, called The eVACS uses Linux, and at the end of voting day, votes are sent to a central agency by burning a disk, so that nothing is transmitted over the internet.

The Indian EVM was alleged to lose data if kept under a strong magnetic field. However, most engineers worth their salt know that a powerful enough magnetic or electric field can fry any circuit.

Comparison of Indian EVM specifications with Diebold from USA [source]:

Device type
EVM: Embedded with Assembly code
Diebold: Embedded with Windows CE, and C++ code

Visual Output
EVM: Single LED against each candidate’s name
Diebold: Color Touchscreen, with GUI software

Operating System/ Software
EVM: None, the Assembly code to register number of votes is all it has.
Diebold: Windows CE, and C++ code stored on the Internal Memory and PCMCIA cards.

Records/ Audits
EVM: The Voting unit doesn’t store anything, the control unit records the number of votes casted for each candidate against his serial number. No record to link person-to-vote.
Diebold: Internal ribbon printer. And PCMCIA storage for records and audit trials. Additionally the GEMS server also stores the votes and audits.

EVM: Blind people are allowed to bring an escort into the polling booth to help them vote.
Diebold: Optional Audio component to assist the visually impaired. “Magnify” feature to enlarge the text. I guess all Windows CE Accessibility features are available on these systems.

EVM: Control Unit accumulates the votes, it is a device with flash storage and seven segment LED displays. They are connected to voting units with a 5 meter cable, the Unit has a switch to issue a ballot for a voter.
Diebold: Two GEMS servers one primary and a backup, for every polling station, that connects to the voting units to “load the ballots” (!!) and then voting units work independently. They are again connected at the time of results.

Security of Access
EVM: Physical security is ensured by the electoral officers. Unit is sealed during transport.
Diebold: GEMS servers have access through Supervisory Smart cards, and PINs, some users have login and password access.

Ballot Issue
EVM: Ballot is issued by Electoral officer by pressing a button on the Control Unit. It allows the voter to press one button on the voting unit.
Diebold: Voter access smart card is issued in an envelope for a terminal. Voter can put it in the assigned terminal and cast his/her vote.

Storage of Votes
EVM: In Internal Non removable memory of the Control Units. All control units are transported physically to the counting center.
Diebold: In a PCMCIA card hidden in the Voting Unit. Results are “transmitted” using modems to the counting center.

Cost of the System
EVM: About 10500 Rs. (230$) for 1 control Unit + one voting unit.
Diebold: About 3300$.

Power Supply
EVM: 6V alkaline batteries
Diebold: electricity

EVM: 3840 Votes (the electoral process distributes one polling station for not more than 1500 voters) so its large enough.
Diebold: Over 35000 votes.

EVM: The Voting unit has a Non tear-able printed sticker, which is printed in any of the 18 (yes 18) constitutional languages, spoken in the region. The Election Symbol of the candidate allows people who cannot read that language or cannot read any language at all to vote by pressing the button against the symbol.
Diebold: Supports more than 8 different languages using GEMS software.

Developed by
EVM: State owned Defense Equipment manufacturing units.
Diebold: Private company.

Buyer/ Owner
EVM: Election commission of India buys it and ownes it to conduct elections everywhere in India.
Diebold: Individual states / counties buy the systems, and use it to take part in elections, each state can decide based on its law, which system to adopt.

March 24, 2009

How to get onto the voters list in India

Filed under: election, form 6, India, indian elections, jaago rey, voters ID card, voters roll — neosurya @ 10:13

I checked from election commission’s website that Koramangala falls under 172-BTM Layout. Relevant documents:
Electoral Registration Officers in Bangalore and
Electoral Registration Officer’s (EROs) of 21 New (Delimited) Legislative Assembly Constituencies of BBMP.
Folks from office also verified that my house falls under BTM constituency.

Next, filled out form 6, attached photocopy of passport and ration card and submitted at the ERO office at the BBMP office in Madiwala, next to ayyappa temple (wikimapia link) . The office timing was from 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM and 4:00 to 8:00 PM; I was there at about 9:30 and it took around half-hour to submit the form. They gave me an acknowledgement and said that the name should show up in about one week. The BBMP office in Madiwala is not indicated as an ERO office on the pdf files. You can call the ERO office before you go and verify if there is another center closer to you.

Many are checking out jaago re to get their names onto the voters list. Jaago rey lets you fill out the information on form 6 directly as pdf. You have to hand over the form yourself. I did not use jaao rey, preferred to download the form from Govt site.

The Govt. websites themselves are not too bad. Karnataka has a website that shows wether your name is on the voters list or not.

Once your name gets onto the electoral rolls, you should be able to go to the local ERO office and get your voters ID card. Today, there was a huge crowd outside the BBMP office for getting the ID card; hopefully it would not be necessary to go to the BBMP office to get ID card. During election time, like right now, one can also get a voters ID card at local offices like at the Chinmaya school in Koramangala. The latter serves local communities and would be less crowded.

PS: This is the first time I am in India during General Elections as an adult, and I +vely want to be on the voters list.

November 1, 2008

Some comments on Shantanu”s blog…

Filed under: election, politics, social change — neosurya @ 10:28

Shanthanu has a blog about current affairs in India. He revaled his identity and it makes for interesting reading: I am mirroring some comments that I had written there.

@ Sanjeev’s comment: “I completely detest anyone who claims to live first for their country.”

I agree and disagree with this. There is a time and place for every shade; Life is gray scale, binary only looks good on circuits. I agree in the sense that there is no place for such feelings while designing policies. When the seeds of our political structure were being sown, the predominant frame of thought was “Country first”. The shadow of such feelings has lead to a very shabby framework in terms of accountability, remuneration, and electoral process. For example, “Country is first for every politician, defence person etc etc and hence they will be expected to work for peanuts”. On the other hand, if we completely let go of “Country first” feelings among all citizen, you run the risk of creating a loss of reference for the common man, and a geographic disconnect. There is a necessity to have “Country first” feelings among every citizen. We need to get to a stage where every citizen believes that country first is equivalent to creating a better tomorrow for himself and his family.

@ your comment “you can help by becoming financially independent”

It is nice to suggest/recommend financial independence before an individual gets into politics. However, it is very dangerous for political parties to allow someone to work for them for free. Parties and policies have to draw strict lines of what is voluntary and what is not. Else sooner or later there will be a day when the free-loader will be driven to an ulterior need. Remuneration, accountability, and punishment go hand in hand. If I am self-sufficient enough, there will be a day when I will not perform. To quote from the niti-shastra “Discontented brahmanas, contented kings, shy prostitutes, and immodest housewives are ruined.”

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