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'Combat machine, money, media power, save democracy': civil society gets political nod

By Our Representative 
As many as 11 opposition parties have endorse resolutions to combat a civil society initiative at a meeting in Delhi's high profile Constitutional Club to combat the menace of machine, money and media power or 3Ms, which are which they said are "distorting" electoral democracy in India.
Organised by the Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), Jan Sarokar and People First, representatives of Congress, two Communist parties (CPI, CPI-M), Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party (SP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), Rashtiya Lok Dal (RLD), Welfare Party and Swaraj India resolved to fight the three Ms which pose the "gravest challenges to democracy in India."
Two opposition parties -- Aam Aadmi Party and Trinamool Congress -- which saw some major electoral successes recently, did not participate.
Speaking on the occasion, Dr Subhashis Banerji, Professor of Computer Science, IIT, Delhi said, EVMs can be manipulated and there was an urgent need to ensure verifiablity and auditability of the voting process.
Anjali Bhardwaj, co-convenor of the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information, regretted that electoral bonds had opened the floodgates to unlimited anonymous big money with no information being provided to people on who is funding the parties.
Pamela Philipose, senior journalist, insisted for the urgent need to regulate fake news, propaganda and social media manipulation which was weaponised by BJP in elections.
Taking part in the discussion, Congress leader Digvijay Singh said he does not trust EVMs as people can't be sure where their vote went. Due to electoral bonds, people do not know where money is going, and by unchecked use of money, BJP is controlling the media, which is spreading fake news.
Sitaram Yechury of CPI-M said electoral bonds were smuggled in through the money bill route. Despite multiple legal challenges to it, including one that he filed, the Supreme Court has not decided the matter even though more than three years have passed. The Election Commission of India (ECI) is functioning like an executive council rather than an independent Constitutional body. The media is acting as a propaganda channel for the government, suppressing the voice of the opposition.
D Raja of CPI said, the fact that 90% of the bonds were transacted in the highest denomination of Rs 1 crore shows that this is not being given by ordinary persons. It shows the control of the electoral funding is completely under corporates. There is no level playing field due to money and muscle power.
Dr Mairajuddin Ahmed of RLD said the role of big money and criminalisation has completely skewed the electoral field. Today there is open misuse of bureaucracy. Selling tickets for money and using criminal elements to intimidate voters is well known and documented and needs to be countered.
Jitendra Awad of NCP said everyone knows that EVMs can be manipulated, yet since the Supreme Court is compromised, we have to go to the court of the people. Everyone saw how BJP brought down the Maharashtra government by buying so many MLAs. They stole the whole party., But how does one raise a voice when no one is listening?
Suresh Reddy of TRS said no technology can be fully tamper proof and therefore any such claims of 100% error free voting must be challenged.
Ghanshyam Tiwari of SP said when every machinery of the elections has been hijacked, how can machines remain insulated from this hijack?
The meeting ended by making public resolutions on the 3Ms (Machine, Money, Media).

EVM voting and VVPAT counting

It is recognised that purely EVM-based voting and counting does not comply with ‘Democracy Principles’ which require that each voter should be able to verify that his or her vote is cast-as-intended; recorded-as-cast and counted-as-recorded. We demand the following:
i. EVMs cannot be assumed to be tamper-proof. The voting process should be redesigned to be software and hardware independent in order to be verifiable or auditable.
ii. The VVPAT system should be re-designed to be fully voter-verified. A voter should be able to get the VVPAT slip and cast it in a chip-free ballot box for the vote to be valid and counted. This should not require interaction with any authorities and should not depend in any way on assumptions of correctness of machines.
iii. The integrity of the VVPAT slips and the EVM machines during the entire time after polling and before counting and auditing must be ensured in a manner that is verifiable. The VVPAT slips must be printed in such form and manner to be preserved for a minimum of 5 years.
iv. There must be stringent audit of the electronic tally for every constituency before the results are declared. The audit should be based on full manual counting of the VVPAT slips to improve voter confidence. Forms 17A and Forms 17C must be tallied and be publicly disclosed at the end of polling on the day itself. Forms 17A and 17C should also be tallied with the manual count of VVPAT printouts.
v. There is need to move away from certification of voting equipment and processes and demonstrate that the outcome of an election is correct irrespective of machines and trust on custody chains of EVMs and VVPATs. This can be done by adopting well established strategies for risk-limiting audits (RLA) or by using a provably end-to-end verifiable cryptographic protocol, or both. The ECI should explore the possibilities.
vi. The EVM voting and counting system design should be subjected to independent (of the government and ECI) review and the integrity of the election process should be subjected to independent audit. The findings should be made public and all design details should be transparent and publicly available.

Money power

Massive money power and the criminal muscle-power created thereof is destroying the very integrity of India’s elections. Candidates expenses have a ceiling but political party spending does not have any ceiling.The fast-rising economic oligarchy in the country, threatening India as a welfare state is the direct fallout of this extreme criminal and money power in elections which is the fountainhead of all corruption in the country.
It compromises the integrity of democracy in multiple ways: it raises the entry barriers to politics; excludes honest candidates and parties; leads to corruption and big money controlling the state; distortion of policy making in wasteful, inefficient, and anti-democratic directions; and exacerbation of polarization.
The government, using Money Bill route to bypass Rajya Sabha, introduced electoral bonds that has increased opaqueness and consolidated the role of big money in electoral politics. The Electoral Bonds Scheme in its current form must be immediately discontinued. There must be transparency in political party funding. Details of donations, including amounts and names of donors, should be in the public domain.

Media power

The free media plays a crucial role before, during and after elections in creating an environment for the dissemination of information that enhances people's ability to vote in an informed way. India's mediascape has undergone a major transformation with the exponential growth in the use of the internet across the world and also in India.
Unfortunately, communication technologies and media platforms are creating polarization through the circulation of disinformation and hate-filled text posts and tweets. Despite guidelines and codes, ECI has not seem to be taking cognizance of the many violations in the past elections.
ECI failed to curb fake news online before and during these elections. Procrastination, silence, and inaction characterised ECI's responses even to serious violations of Model Code of Conduct and media code. We urge the ECI to take strong and effective actions against the offenders whosoever they may be.

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