Pandora’s Vox

What if the EVM could approximate voter behaviour?

Your cheeky editorial about the speaking, pontificating, buttoned-up voting machine (‘I, EVM,’ IE December 12) gets it mostly right except that one, nagging doubt: If the EVM can be spoken on behalf of, can it not be thought-controlled too? The editorial claims that the EVM is, after all, the messenger of people’s will and not the will itself. Is it?

What if, just what if, the EVM has grown a sense of the self? What if it has developed something akin to anthropoid greed? What if it has discovered the august company of Cambridge Analytica and can approximate voter behaviour and choice? If nothing else, are we to believe that it does not savour its 15 minutes of infamy when it malfunctions and all hell breaks loose? Are we to believe it does not like the attention when political specimens of every gene clamour for its blood? Are we to believe that the on-air surgeries performed on it are not akin to adrenalin-pushing, TRP-bursting game-shows?

Who does not like all this? If the EVM behaves well, acts as per the book, causes no storm over the South Block tea-cup, will the gentile and the Jew ever rave about it on social media? Oh no, dear editor, no one talks about a good citizen these days. Otherwise, why was everyone on their toes when there was a power failure and the hawk-eye of the CCTV went missing for 76 minutes in a Bhopal strongroom on December 7? All the efficient donkey’s work that the Good Joe EVM performed over the days of the elections, all the silent transportation, all the wink-less hours of standing in attendance in darkened rooms have gone unnoticed. But a brief error of 76 minutes has raised everyone’s heckles. Nothing sells like notoriety, or why pay the trolls?

After all, there is merit in tinkering and tailoring the EVM. One little displacement in the network of cables and chips inside can be oh so fulfilling! Fool the people, keep them hungry and jobless, tread cruelly on promises made, decimate earnings and savings and then quietly doctor the EVM. And bingo! Whichever button is pressed, the endorsement turns green, saffron or red.

Have you heard the phrase scientific rigging? Once upon a time many moons ago, there was a party in Bengal which had christened itself as Blah Blah Red Party. They talked a lot and did very little work. But one thing they did with rapt attention. They could calculate, almost with zero margin of error, the nitty-gritty of each election from below. They could make gargantuan mathematics about booth-wise voting patterns, they knew the algorithm of support across every household and the algebra of tomfoolery that would bring their voters to the booth and transfer their will to the party’s symbol, thunderously stamping their name on the ballot paper. How? By “scientific rigging”. Meaning? A suave, secret and polished arrangement (made in cohort with underlings of the party) to ensure that maximum was voting on their side. But how? Well, you could cajole, threat or affiance the opposing candidate during nominations. Or for the voter on their way to the polling booth, you could send stern missives to their homes in their absence; you could bring back to life dead or absent voters on the day of polling, you could whisk away the invigilating officer from the polling room, you could misinform date and time of voting to unlettered villagers, you could arrange for food and drink for suspect voters holding them back from the polling station etc. These were fairy-tale virtues of the Red Party, taught earnestly in night schools for comrades. Now think of it this way. All this hard work taking months, all this planning taking weeks, all this calculation eating up papers can be brought to a nought with one single, magic surgery on the EVM.

Thomas Hobbes considered human life, in natural surroundings, as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. For him, the parliament was a possible answer. But the dusty way to that parliament in our country, dear editor, is no less poor or nasty or brutish. And a little doctoring of the EVM can ensure that it is short too.