EVMs are convenient but they
are not tamper-proof
Diversities — Delhi Letter
IN his 32-year-long diplomatic career, Sir Michael Arthur has been places, literally. He has served in the United Nations, Brussels, Kinshasa, Bonn, Paris and Washington before coming to New Delhi as the British High Commissioner last year. The soft-spoken 54-year-old Oxford alumnus, who studied politics and economics, speaks to The Sunday Tribune just a week after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London.
Q: You have come to India at a time when New Delhi and London are stressing the need for greater bilateral cooperation in various fields. What role do you envisage for yourself in this situation?
A: Our two Prime Ministers signed a very important joint declaration in London last week. This sets a new agenda for bilateral relationship. We have described this as a comprehensive strategic partnership. With good reason. The declaration identifies policy areas ranging from foreign and defence policy to science and technology, education and culture. I would like to take forward the agenda. It’s a very exciting and challenging task.
Q: What do you propose to facilitate easier and faster availability of British visa to Indian applicants. Any more Consular offices in India?
A: British High Commission offices across India issue about 300,000 visas a year. Each visa is multiple entry, and can range from six months to 10 years. The volume is growing by at least 25 per cent each year. India is our single biggest visa operation anywhere in the world. Most visas are issued within 48 hours without the applicant’s visit to our offices. We have now started a new visa facilitation service, with offices in 11 cities in India to help process the visas. For the straightforward applicant, all you have to do is send your papers through the Visa Facilitation Office and back comes your visa within 48 hours. It is an interesting new example of outsourcing within India!
Q: How do you view the growing defence ties?
A: Defence links are one of the key areas identified in the joint Prime Ministerial Declaration. Your Chief of Naval Staff is in London. Our Chief of Army Staff will visit India in a week. We have had a series of joint ship visits. Your pilots are training on Hawk in Wales. We are trying to increase the joint military exercises. I was privileged to visit your Defence Staff College in Wellington last week where we have three British Officers on secondment. There is a broad range of bilateral cooperation. We could go much further. That is part of my ambition.
Q: What about the proposed opening up of Indian skies?
A: We need to open up Indian skies. The two governments achieved a breakthrough on this some 10 days ago. Over the next year, we will more than double the number of flights to 40 in each direction each week — and to more cities in India and the UK. I am delighted at that progress. British companies are also very likely to be interested in contributing to the modernisation of your airports. The increase in aviation links opens up a whole new range of exciting opportunities, not least helping India realise its immense potential as an international tourist destination.
Q: How does Britain view the French ban on wearing of headgear by minorities, including Sikhs, particularly because it directly affects a large Indian population residing in France?
A: Each country in Europe has its own cultural and historical traditions. France and Britain have chosen different paths. The wearing of headgear by minorities — Sikhs or Muslims — poses us no problems. As an anecdote, I recall one of my early tasks as a diplomat being to help negotiate a derogation from the EU Directive on motorcycle helmets so that British Sikhs could wear turbans. That was in the 1970s. No one in Brussels, at that period of history, understood what we were fussed about. We got it through.
Q: How do you view the role of the large Indian population in Britain in the future of British politics?
A: We have 13 lakh British citizens of Indian origin. We are proud of their contribution to British life. That community is the most successful (and prosperous) of our minority ethnic communities. They have a major contribution to make. And you see from high achievements of the second and third generation PIOs in the UK that their contribution to British life will grow even more.
Q: Both India and Britain are keen on having a “strategic partnership”. What are the areas of partnership?
A: The Joint Declaration covers the range of issues we regard as part of the strategic partnership. We recently published an international strategy for the next decade. It defined key priorities like combating terrorism and fighting international crime and drugs, opening up the international economy to the benefit of all, developing the international institutions and so on. India would be indispensable to our success in any of these areas.
Q: Kashmir is an unfinished agenda. What should India and Pakistan do to resolve this problem? Will the conversion of Line of Control into an International Border help?
A: We follow the issue with close interest. It is for India and Pakistan to find a bilateral solution to their differences. We will do all we can to support you as you find that solution.
Q: The US and the UK look upon Pakistan as a “stalwart ally” in the war against terrorism. Does Britain think that Pakistan has delivered on this front to its fullest capabilities?
A: Fighting terrorism is one of our top priorities. Both Pakistan and India have an important role to play. Both have been helpful. Until we eradicate terrorism globally, not just in the subcontinent, there will always be more to do.
Q: Will Britain permit Indian lawyers to practice in the UK as the British law firms have been demanding opening up of Indian courts for British lawyers under the WTO framework?
A: Indian lawyers can already practice in the UK (except for advocacy in court). Many do, and have practices in both countries. British lawyers want reciprocity here. But in reality that work in India will be off-shore work — advising Indian clients on British and international commercial law. They are not interested in advocacy work. When you decide to open up the legal services here, you will find British law firms employing many Indian lawyers. India is internationally competitive in services. This is an opportunity for Indian lawyers, not a threat.
Q: Why is the EU not willing to reduce its subsidies to agriculture as demanded by India and other developing countries in WTO?
A: The EU is committed to eliminating the export subsidies that drive Indian farmers to despair. We gave a clear commitment to do that as part of the framework for the next stage of WTO negotiations agreed in July. These big structural changes in the economic sector will take time. They are very sensitive. So getting that agreement was a real
EVMs are convenient but they
are not tamper-proof
I had the opportunity of working as the Election Commission’s Observer in many elections in Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. I found that government employees and voters have become so efficient with the electronic voting machines (EVMs) that the task of the polling agents and the polling parties has become easier.
Undoubtedly, Indian voters know how to safeguard their interests. However, their choice is sometimes guided by considerations of caste, religion and local issues. The problem before the voter is that right from his birth, he has been brought up in a caste mould, which eventually affects his options in voting. This is true in almost all elections in India.
Being used since 1980s, the voters have whole-heartedly accepted EVMs. This has made the counting of votes faster and more accurate than the manual system. But the problem with this technology is that the voter can observe the record that it made. For instance, let us presume that a voter voted for X but the machine could record the vote for Z. There is no way anyone can tell that a particular voter has voted for X. I feel the system of recount will hardly help solve the problem.
Mr Kevin Coleman, in Congressional Research Service (Jan 31, 2003), examines the merits and demerits in Internet voting. He says, voting entails two absolute requirements — the secret ballot and security from fraud. The stakes are higher than for many other transactions routinely conducted via the Internet. According to him, “public confidence about Internet security is increasing, but many feel that voting online requires a degree of security from fraud beyond the current standard for everyday Internet use”. The National Defense Authorisation Act for 2002 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 included provisions to extend a pilot project for Internet voting on a limited basis and to conduct an in-depth study for the Congress on the feasibility on Internet voting.
Observers also refer to a “digital divide” between those who have access to computers and the Internet (and the skills to use it) and those who do not. Proponents of Internet voting suggest it could increase turnout, particularly among younger voters who are familiar with Internet technology. In the meantime, several experiments with Internet voting in public elections took place in 2000. More are likely as the technology for online voting evolves.
In PC World (June, 2004), Paul Booth debates on the security and safety of e-voting. He writes, “most e-voting machines use similar procedures, with variations in the secure media used to activate the machines and the procedures for retrieving votes. All e-voting machines include back-up batteries so that they can run for a few hours during power cuts. The booth machines operate independently and are not connected to the Internet. These machines are connected only to a local election judge’s workstation. They lack the hardware to connect to the Net”.
Booth writes, “to report results, most systems collect votes on to one voting machine or PC at the polling place. The personal computers used to collect and transmit results aren’t supposed to be connected to the Internet while tallying results. Anonymity is an important design factor in e-voting systems to prevent bribery or intimidation. Touch screen systems of e-voting can reduce several common mistakes voters make in the booth. They provide immediate feedback on the vote, helping to ensure that one doesn’t vote for too many candidates in a race, forget to vote on an issue, or enter an unintended vote because one misread the interface. E-voting terminals can be more convenient than paper system as well. The machine’s highest vulnerability is simple: there’s no way for voters to know what the machine records when they cast their votes and no voter-verified physical record available for recounts”.
I feel EVMs can be completely insecure vis-a-vis paper voting. The people have been paper voting since 1951 and the Election Commission knows how to maintain the integrity of a paper ballot election. Such mechanism will be established in EVMs in due course. I debated these issues with election officials and electronic engineers, but no one could give me a satisfactory reply. There could be error or fraud committed by the programmers or anyone who had access to the software before it was installed on the machine. The contesting candidates sometimes have highly motivated supporters who might get experts to do it. What will happen then?
In an interview in Span (August, 2004), computer scientist Dr David L. Dhill, says the EVM companies face criticism for the security of their software. He says, “I don’t think they can make it secure enough, no matter what their procedure, or how they design the machine, or how the machines are inspected at independent laboratories. I have, however, attempted to find out what the actual processes are, and they are much worse than what is available. The place where we learned the most was when (touch-screen-voting leader) Diebold’s source code and many of their other files were placed on the Internet”. According to him, the computer’s system was examined by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and Rice University. Various possibilities for external attacks — even by voters — came up in that review.
What is currently the best? Dr Dhill feels, the best option is a precinct-based optical-scan machine in which the voter himself puts the ballot into the machine, which reads it. The advantage is that the machines can be programmed to reject ballots that have stray marks or too many votes, so that the voters can correct them on the spot. The other option is to go in for direct recording EVM with a voter-verifiable printer. It is more expensive than the touch-screen machine and it hasn’t been tested much in the elections. Let the leading countries give it a try. If the system works well, we can deploy more machines, says Dr Dhill.
For the ensuing US Presidential elections, EVM has become a big issue. Many computer experts admit that no voting system is immune to tampering. They advise back-up paper work that can be audited in the event of a failure. It is interesting to watch such meaningful debates and learn lessons for future corrections in our country.
ONE wonders if cricket still remains the gentlemen’s game, judging by petty manipulation witnessed in what should have been a routine election of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Never before election to a sports body has seen intrigue of this magnitude, followed by double talk, deceit and manoeuver. The BCCI is a 75-year-old body and, perhaps, the richest one. However, lately, it has plunged into low level politics.
Contrary to the claims made by Sharad Pawar and his cronies, the fact remains that the BCCI has been totally politicised and major political parties do interfere in its affairs. Years back, Mohinder Amarnath had rightly described the selectors of Indian team as “a bunch of jockers”. The BCCI’s newly elected chief, Ranbir Singh Mahendra, having a three-decade-long association with the prestigious organisation, too had desperately commented: “There should be no involvement of politicians in cricket”. He may not be articulate like his predecessors but he has spoken the truth.
Paradoxically, Ranbir too hails from a well-known political family of Haryana but luck belied him in the weird world of politics. He is the eldest son of the state’s former Chief Minister, Bansi Lal, known as the builder of the state and, later, as Indira Gandhi’s Defense Minister during the Emergency. Ranbir should have carved out a political future for himself but was not lucky. He contested the Lok Sabha election from Bhiwani constituency, his home place, in 1998 but forfeited his security deposit.
He tried his luck for the second time a year in the Assembly elections, but had to face second successive defeat. Ranbir tried hard to maintain his existence in politics but did not make much headway. Meanwhile, relations between the father and the son soured; Ranbir is still a Congressman while Bansi Lal floated a new political party.
A failure in politics or, one may say, reject in politics, Ranbir created history in the realms of sports. He has adequately avenged his humiliation in politics by humbling, Sharad Pawar, a heavy weight, in last week’s BCCI chief election. What Ranbir could not achieve in the world of politics, he accomplished it in the sphere of sports, say his supporters. It was a feat indeed, a little known “Haryanvi”, struggling hard to express himself in English (as seen on TV) and defeating a leader who once cherished his ambition to be the Prime Minister of India.
Sixty-year-old Ranbir has been a lover of cricket since his student days. He was ranked first in the college team. He was known to be an all rounder, a sound batsman and deadly blower. Politics, his family avocation, beckoned him but cricket has always been his first love. By profession, Ranbir is a lawyer and sometimes practices in Bhiwani court. He is also a member of the Bar Council of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
His friends say, he is a man of words. Having a strong will, once he decides on a course of action, there is no question of looking back. That was, perhaps, the reason why even after Sharad Pawar jumped into the BCCI fray, he never for a moment thought of withdrawing his candidature. On the contrary, he appeared more determined to oppose the Maharashtra strongman and the Union Agriculture Minister.
Only a few might have seen the working of the BCCI from so close quarters as Ranbir. His association with the organisation spreads over three decades. He functioned as its Secretary for five years from 1980. His election to the top slot has been welcomed in cricket circles.
On his part, Ranbir demonstrates the same resoluteness when he took up cudgels against Pawar. “I have always been confident that I will win. I am happy that I have the confidence of the majority of members. However, I had expected to win by 4-5 votes. So definitely there was some cross-voting”.
He asserts that the Board’s election was completely fair and there was no foul play. “I disagree with him” was his blunt comment when his attention was drawn to Pawar’s allegation that Maharashtra’s D. Agashe, a Board member for 20 years, was deliberately not allowed to vote in the election.
Ranbir faces a daunting challenge as the BCCI chief. He has to show vision and will power to reform the functioning of the Board whose constitution was framed when cricket in India was in infant stage. The Board needs, among other things, professional assistance, total transparency and accountability.
Also the shadow of Jagmohan Dalmiya, who acted like the virtual godfather of Ranbir in the election, would be looming large over the BCCI. If the Board is not able to reform itself, the lurking fear is that the government may one day take it
IN this big sprawling house in Bhagalpur Bihar by the broad, soft flowing Ganga, it’s difficult to adjust to the topography. There’s an entrance here and an entrance there, at least three places where dinner can be served; wide verandhas moulded to the shape of the building; trees of many varieties, birdsong, and always the river to raise one’s head and see.
It’s hard to find a place better suited to work. The television is out of reach in the boudoir of my hostess, crates of my host’s books wait unpacking and I have brought only material to write, not read. And so I chose to retreat to my only link with the world — the radio. After World War-II an Englishman was visiting a French farmer and, going round the farm, they came to a shed where stood a large, healthy cow, obviously a prized possession. “It’s name”, said the farmer,” is BBC” because from the BBC is where, secretly, all the information we had about the war came”.
I, too, leaned on my fifteen-band set adjusted more or less permanently to the BBC and, with home far away, I sat square and comfortable and learnt much and kept on being uptodate. So much of the news was unpleasant — the siege of the school in Beslan in the Russian Caucasus, the ever more powerful bomb blasts in Iraq; and, in Analysis, commentaries on the course of events; a feature on the state of Sakhalin Island once divided between the Japanese and the Russians and it’s change from Penal Island to Tourist Island to Treasure Island.
Some eighty years ago Anton Chekov, a doctor and one of Russia’s greatest writers, was sent to survey the Penal Settlement of Sakhalin. Years later, he went through his notes and put them together into a book that shocked the entire Russian nation’s attitude to Sakhalin and the people holed up there for years in shacks.
What has liberated radio and television is the satellite telephone. Someone like the BBC or CNN can get almost any one in any part of the world to answer a question or make a comment at a cost not very much more than the price of peanuts. If by e-mail then perhaps cheaper even than peanuts.
Some 30 years ago I suggested to AIR a weekly half hour programme which could hook up India by telephone. The Chief Engineers said it could not be done technically well. Some others talked about government’s permission being needed to record and broadcast news and views over the phone. Yet all the time the BBC, CNN and other organisations were recording people every minute from the South seas, or the Antarctic or a typhoon-lashed Caribbean island.
Television cameras are hand-held and light now-a-days but still need a little infrastructure, the satellite telephones which correspondents can carry in their pocket can drum up almost anybody at any corner of the world in their most triumphant or tragic moments. I am not quite sure how videophones operate.
And yet the “the networks” (a wrong word for India) hover round without swatting the fly of India-wide broadcasting; they do not overcome our multilingualism by instant translation and they produce unutterable boredom.
Public broadcasting or community broadcasting, as I understand it, is still stumbling infants whereas most people I know seem to have at least two telephones and our Indian companies like Reliance, Indico, Nokia etc. are advertising like mad.
What a visionless use of the telephone which can be a news caster, university, theatre and sports commentator all rolled into one. We have money for guns, not for education, for warships but not for radio.
Years ago in Paris I met a senior Ford Foundation executive who said the Foundation then was thinking of giving a grant to the World Service of the BBC in the face of the British Government’s constant threats then to cut the World Services annual grant.
The Foundation thought it was a Service worth preserving. If India had, after 1947, set up a world-wide network in English and other languages like Chinese, Russian, French, Indonesian, Burmese and so on it would have given India a ladder to becoming a world power but our policy makers were policyless.
The broadcasters were even than all a very small-scale imitation of BBC broadcasting with the same designations but without the status and the resources. And our politicians just did’nt understand broadcasting and its power.
Today Indian broadcasting is entirely without haemoglobin. It is not something about whose programmes people talk. There are some phone-in programmes but no bustle to phone the stations, no anxiety for the stations to get a feedback. Why is this so? Advertising revenue seems to have slipped whereas it could have been given a boost.
Indian television is full of haemoglobin of the wrong kind with a few watchable programmes which are a carbon copy of BBC’s Face to Face, Question Time, Brain of India etc but little that is innovative. At election time there comes the eternal talking heads round a table with no ingenuity. There are no new sorts of programmes in a country which makes such good films.
The Olympics gave a marvellous opportunity to both TV and radio. Doordarshan cornered the monopoly but did’nt give us recordings of events which took place at dead of night. In the day we were given overdoses of rowing, wrestling, softball, boxing even, perhaps, of table tennis fencing and badminton although, it is true, they are watchable games. The champagne of athletics was taken out of broadcasting.
Nowadays when tired of some BBC programme (that is possible;) I twirl buttons on my radio and light up on at least half a dozen Chinese broadcasts (not so much music as talk) several Russian and, sometimes a couple of Indonesian and dull Dhaka Bengali. They show up what an opportunity we have
Diversities — Delhi Letter
Sudhir Kakar’s latest book, “Mira And The Mahatma” (Penguin Books India) couldn’t have been better timed. Released here on September 29, it focuses on a rather offbeat association between Mahatma Gandhi and Madeline Slade. I am yet to finish reading the book. So as of now it’s the crux between the covers — the setting in 1925 and the build-up is along the lines:
“India’s struggle for independence is in disarray, impeded by factionalism among its leaders and rising incidents of communal disharmony across the country…having distanced himself from active politics Mahatma Gandhi is in Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat, immersed in what he considers the most important undertaking of his life — the creation of an ideal community that is dedicated to the highest standards of self-discipline, tolerance and austerity.
“Into this world comes Madeline Slade, daughter of a British admiral, who has set her heart on being Bapu’s greatest disciple...Thus begins an extraordinary association between two individuals driven by distinct passions. For Gandhi true spirituality lies in ‘self-rule’. Mira, as Gandhi renames Madeline, believes that the path to ultimate truth and perfection is complete surrender to the human embodiment of the eternal spirit and this she perceives in Gandhi himself.”
As both are human beings, the relationship supposedly takes a turn and then another dramatic turn. “It is not long before Mira’s all consuming desire to serve Bapu translates into a desperate need to be close to him at all times and clashes head on with the exacting moral and spiritual codes he has laid down for himself and for those around him.”
Turban issue still on Yes, according to Dr Mohinder Singh who heads the Institute of Punjab Studies, New Delhi. He says this is in the backdrop of the assurance given by the French authorities that it’s no longer an issue. Singh, who attended a conference on “Religions and cultures: the courage to forge a new spiritual humanism” at Milan in Italy recently, says that there could be some flexibility in public schools of France but not in the government schools which most Sikh children attend. The number of Sikhs in France is believed to be nearly 25,000 living mostly in countryside. However, those affected the most live in Bobigny near Paris, he says. When he raised the matter in the Milan conference, panelists supported this cause, he says.
Yes, according to Dr Mohinder Singh who heads the Institute of Punjab Studies, New Delhi. He says this is in the backdrop of the assurance given by the French authorities that it’s no longer an issue.
Singh, who attended a conference on “Religions and cultures: the courage to forge a new spiritual humanism” at Milan in Italy recently, says that there could be some flexibility in public schools of France but not in the government schools which most Sikh children attend.
The number of Sikhs in France is believed to be nearly 25,000 living mostly in countryside. However, those affected the most live in Bobigny near Paris, he says. When he raised the matter in the Milan conference, panelists supported this cause, he says.
Reema Anand’s film ‘Sewa’
This weekend, writer and film maker Reema Anand’s film ‘Sewa’ was screened here, before she takes it to Toronto for further screening sessions. It’s a 22-minute documentary on Bhagwant Singh Dilawari of Tapovan whose life took a complete turn when he moved from one end to the other.
As an Indian Foreign Service officer, he went places (China, Egypt, Belgium, France etc) but the restlessness continued till the realisation of a different kind dawned on him.
And today he is known as the man whose life revolves around the leprosy-stricken. He had moved to Tapovan where he looks after 1,200 patients and their children — caring for them and providing a complete secure atmosphere for them etc. This is the picturisation that Reema Anand has portrayed in her film.
Alka’s amazing ability This week alone I got three invites for art shows. The curator is none other than Dr
This week alone I got three invites for art shows. The curator is none other than Dr Alka Pande.
In between writing books and manning the main art gallery at
the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, she curates. The latest shows which she has curated and are on this week — Moroccan Mosaics by Sanjit Das. Then it is Alex Davis’ show titled, “I went fishing”. The list is long and is indeed creditable.
For spiritual realisation, one must receive the mercy of a bona fide spiritual master who imparts the science of devotional service to the student. The student receives this knowledge through submissive aural reception, and then it is the student’s duty to faithfully carry out the master’s instructions. In doing this, one must be careful to avoid all offences and obstacles on the path to pure devotion.
— Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
The long estrangement of the soul and the supreme soul ends in their union through the contemplation of the True Word.
— Guru Nanak
Rama is the ancient idol of the heroic ages, the embodiment of truth, of morality, the ideal son, the ideal husband, the ideal father, and, above all, the ideal King.
— Swami Vivekananda
A monk ever vigilant in his moves while he stands, sits, sleeps, eats and talks — is not bound by evil karmas.
— Lord Mahavir
Discretion in speech is more than eloquence.