How it manages and fulfills its constitutional obligations to hold Federal, State and other elections when directed to—with almost vast and autocratic powers—ia a wonder of wonders!
Navin Chawla, Election Commissioner, was in New York to address members of IACC. It was one of those surp trises that Rajiv Khanna, (photo # 3) President, India-America Chamber of Commerce, occasionally, pulls out of his bag that he keeps hidden on the 15th Floor of 200 Park Ave, New York!
A greater surprise was to find how Navin Chawla (photo # 1), one of the two Election Commissioners of Republic of India—a history graduate from London University and a Diploma holder from London School of Economics(1968)—a devotee of Mother Teresa and of course, of course, one who was, and still is, involved in several controversies (and censored by Shah Commission in 1970s), was so friendly, sociable, willing to listen and talk to anyone who wants to (he talked with this correspondent for 15 minutes in the reception area before the start of the meeting, sought and heard his opinion about primaries of U.S.political parties (and how they create a limited democracy, a democracy of the few, by the few and for the few), about vote counting and projections by TV stations, Florida’s voting machines’ scandal when Bush ran for presidency etc., and later on, answered all his questions posed during the meeting.
As India had already started using 1.5 million Electronic Voting Machines (EMV) in 2004, and a lot more now, while United States is still developing systems and is hesitant, a natural question about whether Indian EMVs are susceptible to ‘computer fraud’ did come up during my conversation.
Going into details as to how India decided to get the EMVs developed by companies of its own Defense Department to be cheaper and more reliable, Mr.Chawla asserted that ‘there is no possibility of computer fraud as the systems are tested again and again to be fool-proof.’
(That reminded me of a cold war era joke that is still in circulation.It goes something like this: U.S.Astronauts had a problem with writing-pens as the ink will not flow down in an anti-gravity or no-gravity situations.NASA spent millions of dollars to develop an anti-gravity writing instrument (a pen).Russian astronauts just used a pencil!!)
When told that a New York Times article showed how a person (and Times showed his photograph and location) in charge of a polling booth in Uttar Pradesh, was showing to the reporter as to how he can keep voting for the same candidate again and again, Mr.Chawla replied that he was not aware of that article.
After an introduction by Rajiv Khanna and Counsel General Ms Neelam Deo (photo #2).
Mr. Chawla gave a very detailed account about how the EC handles the formidable task of arranging for manpower—teachers, govt. servants, police officers and others for the poling booths and posting them randomly so that no one knows till the last minute as to who will be posted where. He also detailed the task of getting the ballots to and from remote mountain areas, overflowing rivers and ponds and counting them. “When I returned, my staff-members wanted to know my impressions as to which party will win.” He continued, “ And I told the same thing I will tell you. After passing so many weeks, I myself could not guess. It is so impossible to know as Elections in India are turning out to be more and more unpredictable.”
And if you include complaints that the EC hears and acts quickly to mitigate any form of perceived partiality, you will be amazed.
In replying to the first question from this correspondent, how the EC acts to transfer District Superintendent of Police or other State officials like Collectors, etc., he replied that whenever there is even a little validity in the complaints, they directly approach the concerned official, rather than using their power granted by Constitution and acts of Parliament, and try to persuade them to take a temporary transfer.“Most of the time, it succeeds,” he said.
To another humorous question, as to to what political party is going to win majority in the next 2009 general elections (EC Commissioner is not supposed to predict anything), he cited an example of state of Utter Pradesh where he had spent a month during preparation phase of the last Assembly elections.
The meeting that was held at 6-30pm at the Indian Consulate in New York on 6/16/08, was preceded by cocktails and hors d'oerves.
We have 5 photos in ‘view photos.’ below.(Photos © Chandrakant Pancholi, Overseas India Press Syndicate and Overseas India Press, Inc,2008.None of these photos can be used for publication or otherwise, without the express written permission of the copyright-holder(s).
© Overseas India Press, Inc, 2008