Manufacturing honesty

To ensure stability we need to strengthen the process and let it be played out in its truest spirit, EVM or no EVM

Shahzad Chaudhry November 19, 2021
The writer is a political, security and defence analyst. He tweets @shazchy09 and can be contacted at [email protected]

Jugaad is the right word and though now accepted by Oxford Dictionary as Indian for making-do with a replacement it still isn’t much a proper spoken term in English. It will depend how quickly the world intermingles, if at all, for it to be universally accepted but till then we must do with contriving, constructing or manufacturing instead. The crux is however telling regardless of how one explains it: we need to manufacture honesty to give it the sham of fairness. PTI’s ongoing fancy with the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) seeking fairness and honesty and hence acceptability of the election process is a case in point. Wish all this hullabaloo was instead on an EV (Electronic Vehicle). It would have helped us grow better, cleaner and greener. But we remain past masters at jugaad, political and rhetorical.

Hop into the neighbourhood to know how they are dealing with this perpetual South Asian problem of being bad and grumpy losers. India holds her national elections in seven to nine phases throughout the country taking a month or longer. She uses EVMs in all her elections held under the Election Commission and has more or less delivered a fairly smooth process through the decades. Considering the number of voters across the country what could take days to count manually the EVM delivers in only three hours. That is the advantage India sees in the EVM. For its fairness one must go to Mamta Baneerjee, the veritable chief minister of Bengal of the last ten years and the most promising Indian woman politician after Indira Gandhi. An avowed opponent of Modi and quite displeased with Modi’s repeated success at the national polls, this is how she defines the EVM: “any button you press the vote only gets counted in the flower” (Lotus; BJP’s election symbol) — I paraphrase. Not that it actually does but that’s a politician for you. She has won polls repeatedly using the same EVM. That’s the dichotomy of politics if not its insidiousness.

And yet, it is not in the EVM that honesty will engender in the process. Counting is quick, tabulation may not be. If there is a will to do the dirty thing there will be a way to do it. Our election process has other problems and no technology has found an answer to it. From buying votes to returning officers to presiding officers the entire system can be easily compromised at the right price or return. Even if the voters were to turn completely veritable and honest and responsible, only answering to their conscience, the rest of the chain offers so much to the maleficent mind that technology only becomes a bystander. The system remains corrupted to the core, unfortunately. And when one influential from a constituency keeps winning repeatedly using the options available to him for price or return there comes power and influence attached to his person. Why would then the people of that constituency go against him even if the most honest election system was in place? It’s not the electorate that needs correction to choose the right person but the person who must be right enough to represent his people. We will need to wait till our politicians turn the page to their purpose in politics. The EVM is only a distraction.

Many nations still stick to the ballot paper and the visual stamping of a symbol to express their preference. Neither are the voters for sale nor is the system including counting and tabulation compromised. Nor is there a hiatus when a likely winner pronounces himself the winner too early in the process — not the opponents who are meant to cede an election; they never do — and seeks a two-thirds majority which is then almost delivered. Or, when ‘the system’ desires an outcome it will arrange for it to be delivered from within a loose and a compromised process. When neither was possible force worked its way through and simply reset the whole process.

There is something in the recently held World T20 championship which caught my ear and eye. One, the whole process of combining, playing and performing in the game is now far more technical than the classic cricketing of the village greens. Next, most captains and coaching staff time and again referred to the ‘process’; I heard Babar Azam talk most about it. The crux was that if each sticks to the process as defined to him per his role the result will follow. So, rather than burden the team with the sole purpose to win as the game begins it is for each to execute their assigned part in the process to let a result accrue as a consequence. The team executing the process better found victory. Process overrides the consequence as a principle for fair play and justice. When results are pre-conceived the process is manipulated to adjust to a given end.

There is something to learn here. If the process is clean, dependable and without glitches and is transparent in its enactment, it shall give the results which are most durable and sustaining. But if the process isn’t put in place in its right spirit a result will either be contrived or forced and will not sustain. To ensure stability we need to strengthen the process and let it be played out in its truest spirit, EVM or no EVM. It may be a while before politics can be of and for the common man and we can rid the scourge of the ‘electable’ but if a process is reliable and durable the results can be sustaining giving us the desperately required stability. The alternative is not to force results which may be considered outside the process or do not satisfy the standards of exactitude. This holds true for almost all elections in most constituencies where the process and the results are either manipulated or influenced through power or pelf. We may not get the right material at the top representing us in such a corrupted system for long but we can at least engender a more credible process if we can refine the elements which constitute the process. EVM is only a bit part of that process. The human resource which mans the remaining parts must somehow be also above-board and incorruptible.

The government has far too much on its plate which it is already finding impossible to juggle while a huge agenda remains spectacularly untouched. When the going has gone tough the government has resorted to what Munir Nazi called harkat tez tar hai aur safar ahista ahista. What was already complex has turned complicated. And while the people barely muster through there is no end to the contraptions and distractions that stand for an absent capacity to govern or find solutions to the collective predicament of the people. As I write these lines the circus on EVM is in full sight.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 19th, 2021.

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