Machine, money and the power of the media

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More than 200 people attending a conference on Machine, Money and Media Power on August 13 agreed that 3Ms pose “the gravest challenges to democracy in India today”, said the press release issued by the organizers. of the conference. Conference participants included representatives from civil society and political parties, and it was led by the Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), Jan Sarokar and People First.

Several speakers developed the “3M challenges” and the need for civil society and political parties to unite to combat them effectively. They spoke about the problems of unreliability of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and the misuse of election bonds that introduced large sums of money into the electoral process. Senior journalist Pamela Philipose also spoke about the need to regulate fake news, propaganda and the manipulation of social media in politics, during the first session.

Eleven parties also endorsed resolutions to challenge the power of machines, money and the media, which they say are “distorting electoral democracy in India”. The joint conference of civil society and political parties brought together more than 200 people. Representatives of political parties including INC, CPIM, SP, BSP, CPI, NCP, TRS, RJD, RLD, Welfare Party and Swaraj India decided to “fight against the machine, the money and the power of the media which pose the gravest challenges to democracy in India today.”

During the first session, President Deb Mukherji, spoke about the current scenario and the “need for civil society and political parties to come together in these unprecedented times”. MG Devasahayam spoke about the effort of the Citizens Commission on Elections which examined 3M challenges to democracy as analyzed by experts in India and across the world and published them in the form of a book entitled “Electoral Democracy? An Inquiry into the Fairness and Integrity of Elections in India”.

Professor of Computer Science, IIT, Delhi, Dr. Subhashis Banerji explained how EVMs can be manipulated and said there is an urgent need to ensure the verifiability and auditability of the voting process. National Campaign for People’s Right to Know co-organizer Anjali Bhardwaj explained how election bonds had opened the floodgates to big, unlimited anonymous money with no information provided to people about who is funding parties. Senior journalist Pamela Philipose, spoke of the urgent need to regulate the fake news, propaganda and social media manipulation that was weaponized by the BJP during the elections.

In the second session, leaders from 11 political parties spoke about the challenges posed by 3Ms. The resolutions adopted at the Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), Jan Sarokar and People First Joint Civil Society–Political Parties Conference held in New Delhi on August 13 are:

EVM voting and VVPAT counting

It is recognized that voting and counting purely based on EVM does not comply with “democratic principles” which require that each voter be able to verify that their vote is cast as intended; recorded as sunk and counted as recorded. We require the following:

I. EVMs cannot be considered tamper-proof. The voting process should be redesigned to be independent of software and hardware in order to be verifiable or auditable.

ii. The VVPAT system should be redesigned to be fully voter verified. A voter should be able to obtain the VVPAT ballot and deposit it in a ballot box without a chip for the vote to be valid and counted. This should not require interaction with authorities and should in no way depend on the accuracy assumptions of the machines.

iii. The integrity of the VVPAT slips and EVM machines throughout the time after the vote and before the counting and auditing must be assured in a verifiable manner. VVPAT slips should be printed in a form and manner that will be retained for at least 5 years.

iv. There must be a rigorous audit of the electronic tally for each constituency before the results are announced. The audit should be based on a full manual count of VVPAT ballots to improve voter confidence. Forms 17A and 17C must be counted and made public at the end of the poll on the same day. Forms 17A and 17C must also be counted with the manual VVPAT impression count.

v. There is a need to move away from certifying voting equipment and processes and demonstrating that the outcome of an election is correct regardless of machines and trust in the chains of custody of EVMs and VVPATs. This can be done by adopting well-established strategies for risk mitigation audits (RLAs) or by using an end-to-end verifiable cryptographic protocol, or both. ICE should explore the possibilities.

vi. The design of the EVM voting and counting system should be subject to independent review (by government and ICE) and the integrity of the electoral process should be subject to independent audit. The results must be made public and all design details must be transparent and accessible to the public.

power of money

The power of big money and the criminal power created by it destroys the very integrity of elections in India. Candidates‘ expenses have a ceiling, but political party expenses have no ceiling. The burgeoning economic oligarchy in the country, threatening India as a welfare state, is a direct consequence of this extreme criminal and financial power in elections, which is the source of all corruption in the country.

It undermines the integrity of democracy in multiple ways: it raises barriers to entry into politics; excludes honest candidates and parties; leads to corruption and big money control of the state; distortion of policy-making in unnecessary, inefficient and undemocratic directions; and the exacerbation of polarization.

The government, using the Money Bill route to circumvent Rajya Sabha, introduced electoral ties which increased opacity and consolidated the role of big money in electoral politics. The voter bond program in its current form must be discontinued immediately. The financing of political parties must be transparent. Donation details, including amounts and names of donors, should be in the public domain.

Media power

Free media play a crucial role before, during and after elections in creating an environment conducive to the dissemination of information that improves the ability of citizens to cast an informed vote. India’s media landscape has undergone a major transformation with the exponential growth in internet usage across the globe and also in India.

Unfortunately, communication technologies and media platforms create polarization through the circulation of disinformation messages and hateful text messages and tweets. Despite the guidelines and codes, the ECI does not seem to have taken notice of the numerous violations during the last elections. The ECI failed to combat fake news online before and during these elections. Procrastination, silence and inaction have characterized ECI’s responses even to serious breaches of the Model Code of Conduct and the Media Code. We urge the ECI to take strong and effective action against any offenders.

The resolutions were passed unanimously and endorsed by senior political leaders such as

INC’s Digvijay Singh. Singh said he “didn’t trust EVMs because people couldn’t know where their vote was going. Due to election obligations, people didn’t know where the money was going and by uncontrolled use of , the Bharatiya Janata Party was controlling the media and even funding the spread of fake news.” He added that “in many states, the BJP was using the power of money and various agencies including ED, CBI, IT to smash legislators and bring down governments and install their own.”

According to CPIM’s Sitaram Yechury, “election bonds were smuggled in through banknotes”. He had challenged it in court, but said “”the Supreme Court had not decided the issue even though more than three years had passed. Yechury said the time had come for all political parties to come together and “launch a Jan Andolan to save democracy”. He added that the Electoral Commission operated as “it became like the Executive Council rather than an independent constitutional body” and that “the media acted as a propaganda channel for the government, suppressing the voice of the opposition”.

CPI’s Dr Raja said that “the fact that 90% of the bonds were traded in the highest denomination of Rs. 1 crore showed that it was not given by ordinary people showed that the control of election finance was entirely under the control of the companies.” According to Dr Raja, he had also approached the Supreme Court for a full VVPAT tally of EVMs.

According to Dr Mairajuddin Ahmed of the RLD, “the role of big money and criminalization has completely skewed the electoral field”. Jitendra Awad of the NCP added that “everyone knows that EVMs can be manipulated – but where will you go to get justice? The Supreme Court, the institutions are all compromised. Therefore, we have to go to the people’s court” .

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