Many Indian politicians and celebrities appear to be in a sharp competition of setting nadirs of the unethical conduct in the day-to day public life and political discourse. So it was not surprising when a veteran Karnataka politician of the India’s grand old party stoked this controversy of a rather unconventional variety while speaking against the party head of the ruling dispensation at the Cenre that the latter is suffering from ‘suar ka zukam’ (swine flu). As if this was not enough, so he further added that if the gentleman indulges in toppling the Karnataka government, he will have vomiting and loose motions too. Ordinarily, even the bitter rivals and critics avoid such toxic remarks in the event of somebody being indisposed or having met some kind of serious accident. In yet another incident, the former Chief Minister of Karnataka, Siddaramiah misbehaved with a woman in public inappropriately that included pulling of her dupatta (body scarf) in rage or by accident because she complained about the local legislature who happened to be the politician's own son. Such incidents suggest that the Indian politics has entered into a new phase of the moral degradation and ethical bankruptcy.
Indeed the criticism of the government, institutions or people is part of the freedom of speech and expression; but should there not be some code of conduct or at least some self-restraint for the people, if nothing, in the form of moral principles. Those who have ruled this country for the decades but now are in opposition need to do some serious soul-searching or introspection whether their “no holds barred” approach is really necessary and helping them at the cost of vitiating political and social disharmony besides earning ignominy and ill-repute to the nation. The question is more so relevant because a certain section of the media, political parties and intellectuals are all out to prove that everything that is bad, everything that is unethical, has occurred only after the present day federal government came in power in May 2014.
As if this kind of mud-slinging among the political leaders and parties, and repeated attacks on constitutional and statutory institutions like the Supreme Court, Election Commission, CAG are not enough, a far more sinister development took place early this week when an alleged US-based Indian cyber security expert, Syed Shuja made a press conference under the banner of the Indian Overseas Journalists Association (Europe) in London through video-conferencing wherein serious allegations were levied about rigging of polls in 2014 through electronic voter machines (EVMs) hacking in an obvious pointer towards the Bhartiya Janta Party – the present ruling dispensation in India being the main culprit. Equally foxing and frustrating feature of the conference was the presence of a high profile politician and senior lawyer of the grand old political party of India among the audience all along.
Allegations Made by Mystery Man
The man who made the press conference under the banner of the IOJA claimed his name to be Syed Shuja and that he is an ex-employee of the Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL). Shuja did not come to London and he interacted all along through video-conferencing from an unknown location in the United States, though some reports claimed his location as California which itself is a diverse and one of the largest state of the USA. The silhouette looked like as if the person was sitting in rather a dingy room on a high sofa with his face covered. With this staged anonymity, he went on to make startling revelations one after another, with the high profile Indian politician Kapil Sibal in attendance and room full of journalists and other distinguished Indians watching him live.
During an interaction lasting to almost one and a-half hour, he spoke on a range of subjects including his experiences with the ECIL, India, sensational allegations about the hacking of EVMs and certain high-profile murders. He claimed that he was a former member of the ECIL, India and was associated with the team comprising of several engineers that designed and developed the EVMs used in 2014 General Elections. He accused political parties in the country being not only involved in corruption and subversion of the democratic processes but also many murders; of course his main target remained the ruling BJP at the Centre. Ironically, despite his tall and shocking claims as also taking questions from the audience, he was unable to substantiate any of his claims.
The alleged hacker Shuja also stated that his team was provided with the Printed Circuit Board (PCB) of the EVMs that had no WiFi chip or Bluetooth, making it virtually impossible to hack the machine with the conventional wireless means. Consequently, his team allegedly devised another way to breach the security protocols of the device and access it remotely via radio frequencies through a sophisticated graphite based military grade modulator, operating on the spectrum frequencies available only to the military. He claimed that this particular modulator made it possible to hack into the kernel of the device and manipulate results; ultimately, this technique was allegedly used by the particular national party to manipulate the results of the 2014 and future elections. Some of the more important and shocking claims as made by Shuja are briefly as under:
- Lok Sabha elections of 2014 in India that experienced the resurgence of BJP in India and shot it to power was rigged;
- The Indian National Congress lost about 201 parliamentary seats in the election due to the EVM tampering;
- Late Union Minister Gopinath Munde was aware of the EVM rigging in2014 and his death in an accident was actually an intentional killing for the very reason;
- NIA* officer Tanzil Ahmed was killed because he wanted to file an FIR in Munde's death;
- Reliance Communications helped the national party to hack EVMs;
- Journalist Gauri Lankesh was about to write the story of the EVM rigging when she was killed; and also that
- The EVM also rigged in subsequent Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Gujarat elections.
Gopinath Munde had died in a road accident in the early morning of 3 June 2014 on his way to Delhi airport when his car was hit by an over speeding cab near an intersection in the Safdarjung area of New Delhi. Officer Tanzil Ahmed was shot dead on 2 April 2016 while returning from a wedding with his wife and children. Later two assailants were arrested for his murder which turned out to be a revenge killing in a family feud. The controversial Indian journalist-turned-activist Gauri Lankesh was murdered on 5 September 2017 at her Bangalore house and two suspects were detained in September 2018 by the Maharashtra ATS in connection with the alleged hate crime. The stated self-proclaimed US hacker made sensational allegations but did not give any evidence or clue in support of his claim.
Response of the Election Commission of India
The Election Commission of India promptly refuted about any possibility of the EVMs hacking. The Commission reiterated that the EVMs have no communication modules, they cannot be connected to internet via WiFi, Bluetooth or any other device; hence cannot be hacked remotely and wirelessly. They even asked the Delhi Police to file a FIR to investigate the background and motives of the alleged mysterious hacker from the US in the latest scandalous hackathon event organized in London. On their part, the ECIL refuted Shuja’s claim of being at their payroll when they promptly announced that he was neither their employee nor ever worked for them in any capacity in the past.
A number of so-called experts, at times engaged by the opposition parties, have challenged and attempted to demonstrate that an EVM can be hacked or cracked but none of them ever succeeded in their endeavor to do it yet the hacking saga continues thanks to the suspicious and even perverted minded politicians. Deeply anguished and incensed with the irresponsible allegations and utterances of the skeptics and critics, earlier the Election Commission had dared the political parties to hack or crack its EVMs on 3 June 2017. The opposition political parties were requested to come to the Election Commission on the appointed date and time for the purpose, given them liberty to come with three select experts and pick up any four EVMs of their choice from the Commission’s Delhi warehouses. Needless to mention, none of the political parties showed courage to test their contentions, only two parties viz. CPM and NCP participated the event that too only as observers.
Notwithstanding the irresponsible allegations of the political party(ies) manipulating the Lok Sabha and Assembly Elections with the assistance of the Election Commission, Shuja did not provide any proof in support but the IOJA (Europe) and/or the attending senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal did not raise any doubts or queries about his mysterious demeanor during or after the conference. He went on to naming the ruling BJP as the prime culprit, most likely with an agenda extremely political in nature, and to an extent his and organizers’ purpose was served in that a large number of people distrusted technology due to the lack of understanding and the event only further incensed this ambiguity.
Few people would really mind and bother about the more important question and logic about the poll scenario in 2014. The BJP was in opposition till the General Elections in April-May 2014; could they really exploit vulnerabilities in the EVMs to alter the prospects of the 2014 polls? The scale and extent of the operation that the alleged hacker claims viz. remote access via radio frequencies through a sophisticated graphite based military grade modulator, operating on spectrum frequencies accessible only to the military, would be virtually impossible for the BJP, and for that matter any other private entity, to tap and use it in the run-up of elections. Though with a remote chance, it is the ruling party who could perhaps tap on to the military spectrum that too at a great risk while the BJP was in opposition at that point. Thus all this alleged hacker provided was a postulation based on the hollow words as part of possibly a deep rooted conspiracy.
Misuse of the Right to Freedom
Instances of the unethical conduct cited in the opening paragraph are not incidental or exceptions, rather it has become order of the day in political discourse in this country. Certain constitutional institutions and posts like the President of the Republic or Chief Justice of Supreme Court who do not belong to any political party nor they represent any political ideology yet even they are not spared by the critics in media, political parties and intellectuals with political leanings. In the recent past, the incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been repeatedly addressed as "Chor" (thief) in public by his detractors in the Congress without any sustainable evidence against him. The current trend of “no holds barred” started during the last General Elections in 2014 and is continuing unabated.
Articles 12 to 35 enshrined in the Indian Constitution cater for the fundamental rights of the citizens. Subsequently, during the emergency, certain fundamental duties of citizens were also added to the Constitution through the 42nd Amendment in 1976. In a way while fundamental rights guarantee certain basic human liberties, the fundamental duties are reminders to citizens of their obligations to the nation. Of this the right to freedom of speech and expression provided under the Article 19 is considered the most vital by many yet, incidentally, also one having been infringed most of the time both by the state and individuals since independence. For illustration, the first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was the most vocal votary of the freedom of speech yet no other regime than his ever experienced, barring the exception of the Emergency in 1975, as many restrictions in the forms the banning of the books, periodicals and films. Even noted poet and historians were jailed during his time just for criticizing Nehru or his ideology. One wonders where from we started at the time of independence and where we have reached with new nadirs in political discourse in the name of the freedom of speech. A few illustrations of the recent trends in public life showing moral and professional degradation are given in the following paragraphs.
Moral and Professional Degradations in Public Life
Political parties and their leaders are known for their flip-flop on the rigging of EVMs since the present NDA government came in power in 2014. The bizarre situation is that whenever the opposition parties lose an election, their leaders start singing the tune of the EVM rigging. During the same period, they have won many Assembly elections and then they just keep mum over the issue. Thus it has clearly become and agenda to pressurize and demoralize the Election Commission and disinformation against the ruling party at the Centre. While firing salvos, to vindicate their position, many in the media and opposition often cite the BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani who had also opposed the use of EVMs in 2009. Let’s briefly analyze what Advani did to oppose the EVMs.
After a former Delhi Chief Secretary Omash Saigal expressed opinion that it was possible to tamper the EVMs, the then BJP Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Lal Krishna Advani made a statement to “The Sunday Express” in July 2009, “We should revert to ballot papers unless the Election Commission is able to ensure that Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) are foolproof and every possibility of their malfunctioning is taken care of". He simultaneously also stressed, “…no one was raising any questions like rigging or malpractices in the elections, but larger questions about the possibility of EVMs' malfunctioning must be addressed".
In response to his observations, the Election Commissioner SY Quraishi told that the poll panel was absolutely satisfied that EVMs couldn't be manipulated and that a technical committee headed by former IIT-Madras director, PV Indiresan, appointed by a parliamentary sub-committee, was in place to ensure this. As can be seen from this discourse, it was an apprehension expressed by a senior political leader and his concerns addressed by the Election Commission. Mr Advani had neither put any blame to the ruling party or any political dispensation nor was an attempt to defame or discredit the Election Commission. What is happening now is a systematic chorus by certain political parties to derive mileage by constantly pressurizing the Commission and defaming political adversaries, in a sort of adage “a lie repeated a thousand times becomes truth”.
Quality of Public and Parliamentary Debate:
Public and parliamentary decency and morality observed by the political leaders, journalists and intellectuals for many years after the independence is nowhere visible or experienced now. The healthy working of the Parliament is necessary for the important legislative works, approval of the budgetary demands and for inviting attention of the government on important public issues. On the contrary, a significant part of the total time available is constantly wasted on opposition sponsored pandemonium and disruptions. Almost entire period of the current Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have suffered due to this malaise. Consequently, the legislative work on several important bills has suffered and demands of grants have been passed without any meaningful discussion on many occasions.
The demeanor of some members and the quality of debates during the parliamentary sessions simply disappoints all well-meaning citizens. Only recently, in full view of the public watching the parliamentary debate on television on the alleged Rafale scam, the high profile leader and prime ministerial candidate of the main opposition party made unsubstantiated allegations against the incumbent prime minister, broke the parliamentary protocol by impromptu hugging him and then naughtily winked while back in his seat. As if once was not enough, he repeated the feat of winking in yet another debate on the same subject without any remorse which only suggests members’ low esteem and seriousness towards the parliamentary institution and debate. Then if one looks at the quality of public debates these days, one only feels ashamed of their ballot cast in favour of such public representatives. Perhaps calling the prime minister publicly as “chor” (thief) without any proof is nothing considering the ignominies sprung by his political opponents in the past with the adjectives like mass murderer, poisonous person, liar, fraud, Maut ka Saudager, biggest Gunda, Butcher of Gujarat, Jallad, and so on.
False Allegations to Derive Political Mileage:
Unlike the previous UPA regime which was marred throughout its tenure with numerous scams involving substantial public money, it is true that the current NDA regime is so far free from any such scandals. In the absence of any substantive issue, the main opposition Congress and some other disgruntled people have picked up the September 2016 inter-governmental agreement between India and France for the supply of 36 Rafale fighter aircrafts to create ruckus in Parliament and chaos in public minds. Thanks to the unscrupulous media and politicians, the disinformation campaign and consequent controversies are refusing to die down with next Lok Sabha elections shortly due. The interested politicians are trying to rake up the issue on the pattern of the Bofors Scandal of the late 1980s and 1990s. In spite of a lot hullabaloo by the Congress and such people, except for the disinformation and negative publicity among people, nothing concrete has emerged in the case.
Recently, four public interest petitions were filed in the Supreme Court which examined the whole issue on the parameters of the procurement process, pricing of the aircraft, commercial favourism, if any, and the quality of the fighter aircraft. Briefly, the Court did not find any reason to doubt the procurement process or any need to probe the pricing of the deal or any substance in the alleged commercial favourism. The Court also held that the quality of the fighter aircraft is beyond doubt and the Indian Air Force cannot afford to be unprepared in the prevailing security scenario in the sub-continent. The relevant text in the last para of the judgment is quoted here:
“In view of our findings on all the three aspects, and having heard the matter in detail, we find no reason for any intervention by this Court on the sensitive issue of purchase of 36 defence aircrafts by the Indian Government. Perception of individuals cannot be the basis of a fishing and roving enquiry by this Court, especially in such matters. We, thus, dismiss all the writ petitions, leaving it to the parties to bear their own costs…”
The unethical part of the whole issue is that even the Supreme Court judgment has not dimmed the passion of the interested political party and other detractors because they see an opportunity in keeping the issue alive till at least the General Elections in 2019. Some leaders have gone to the extent of questioning the competence of the apex court in the matter while simultaneously pressing for the investigation by the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). Such committees have a proportional representation of the political parties and are with a known history of so often the members splitting on the political lines.
Compromising Judiciary and Other Constitutional Institutions:
The prevailing political ecology indeed has impacted the Judiciary and other constitutional institutions too in the country. It is not very far in the past when four senior most judges in the Supreme Court had gone public in January 2018 in a press conference to air their dissent with the authority and working of the then Chief Justice of India (CJI). The main dispute was regarding the “roster issue” which judges felt that CJI was arbitrarily deciding the allocation of cases to the different benches. The senior most judge invited a public controversy when same day a senior leader of the Communist party was noticed visiting his house. While these judges received flak from most of the retired judges and law luminaries, their move was welcomed and endorsed by the Congress and some other political parties. These parties made aspersions on the apex judiciary working under the influence of the NDA government. A few months later, the same political parties moved an impeachment motion against the CJI in the upper house of the parliament which was disallowed by the Chairman after due consideration.
Recently, a frustrating trend is evolving whereby certain political parties appreciate the judiciary and judges if a favourable verdict comes in a certain case, while aspersions are casted if the verdict is unfavourable. For illustration, after the Karnataka Assembly elections in 2018 when a Supreme Court bench comprising of a particular judge restricted by an order the overall time given to the designated BJP Chief Minister to prove his majority in the house, judiciary and judge was felicitated for upholding the democracy. Few months later, as part of the high powered committee for the appointment of CBI Director, when the same judge voted in favour of shifting the incumbent director in the light of serious allegations pending against him, a controversy was raised about a possible “quid pro quo” as he was recently considered for an appointment to the commonwealth arbitral tribunal post-retirement. Needless to mention, apparently deeply hurt with this malafide campaign, he withdrew his nomination that occurred weeks before his appointment in the said committee by the CJI.
Judiciary is not the only victim of the vicious agenda and disinformation campaign. During the last 2-3 years, other constitutional and statutory institutions too have been attacked by the same political dispensations and people. The Election Commission has been often criticized by the opposition parties on the charges of bias and favourism. Modus oparandi being same, if the complaint lodged against the ruling BJP and its leaders are disposed of with the favourable order, it is okay else the Commission would receive outright flak and criticism for bias. The institution of the CAG has invited tremendous criticism ever since it published its audit reports on the 2G Spectrum allocation and Coal Mines allocation (or Coalgate) during the latter part of the Congress led UPA regime. The recent utterances of a senior leader of the Congress are far more serious and frustrating in a democratic country. Addressing a press conference after the CBI raided the establishments of the former Haryana Chief Minister BS Hooda in connection with a corruption acse, the said leader threatened officers of the investigating agencies like CBI and Enforcement Directorate to be ready for the possible repercussions if they exceed their brief or take any action outside the ambit of the law in furtherance of the government's sinister agenda as the general elections are in the offing and the government will change.
Fundamental Duties are Important:
Originally ten in number vide 42nd Amendment in 1976, the Fundamental Duties were later increased to eleven through the 86th Amendment to the Constitution in 2002 adding a duty on each parent and guardian towards their child or ward. Though these duties enshrined under the Article 51A do not carry any legal sanction in case of their violation or non-compliance, the citizens are morally obligated to perform these duties. The political leaders, civil rights activists and intellectuals of certain genre who constantly violate these provisions perhaps fail to understand that first of all they are citizens to this country. Of these, such duties which are more frequently violated by such people are indicated here: It shall be the duty of every citizen of India –
- to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem;
- to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India;
- to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women;
- to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture;
- to safeguard public property and to abjure violence;
We are all aware how a section of people constantly ignore and even insult the ideals and institutions, the National Flag and National Anthem on the excuses of the freedom of expression and religion, some political leaders and intellectuals endorse and patronize it. Then there are elements who openly talk about sedition, glorify terrorists and murderers and raise slogans at the public forums to break the nation into pieces. They justify it in the name of the freedom of speech and expression with sometimes tacit and sometime open support of the political leaders and parties. The subject of the professional and moral ethics often tend to lose its significance in the cacophony of public hullabaloo of the political parties, yet its relevance and significance in public life cannot be denied.
As I understand, hacking of any electronic device cannot be entirely ruled out but so far no EVMs have been hacked in India. Be it politicians or technologists, nobody accepted the Election Commission's challange in the past despite a lot of hullabaloo and public posturing for obvious reasons. Also there is no reason to doubt the integrity of the Commission and all Indians must respect them. At any time, anyone can make tall claims like the farcical one did by the mystery man in London without any substantive material in support. What was done in London was clearly with an agenda to malign a political party which somebody staged with the ulterior motives. People have short memories otherwise we are all aware of the disadvantages of the booth capturing, muscle power and massive rigging for which paper ballots had gained notoriety in the past. We have a great advantage in that EVMs are individually off-line machines and with VVPATs, the system is absolutely safe and reliable. Occasional glitches in working of machines should not be used to score a point against EVMs.
While fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution are important and must be upheld but the citizens must realize that they are also obelized to do their fundamental duties also even if they are not enforceable by law. Every journalist, politician and intellectual should realize that first of all they are a citizen of India and in that capacity they must discharge their fundamental duties too when they are so sensitive about their rights. The basic question is about maintaining personal integrity and following certain moral principles in the process.
Moral values in the politics have been on the decline for the last many decades but it has experienced sharp decline in the recent years mainly due to negative politics and non-compliance of the moral and ethical norms in personal and professional life in an endeavor to grab power by any means. Far more disturbing and dangerous is the emerging trend of a large section of media, politicians and ambitious people resorting to any unethical tactics that opens the door of success for them in their pursuance of nurtured goal of capturing power. Perhaps the organization of “Shuja Event” by the vested interests is the result of similar sinister design which many people are not averse to follow even if it comes at the cost of national pride and integrity.