Recent elections to five state assemblies were the focal point of dis cussion months before the polls. Guess work about voters' mood held centrestage in media debates. But the results have surprised one and all --journalists who claimed to have travelled the electoral dustbowls, experts who have for decades analysed vote swings based on caste equations, and pollbattle hardened politicians.
The only one smiling is the voter, who foxed them.The voter's importance in a democracy was summed up beautifully by Winston Churchill, "At the bottom of all the tributes paid to democracy is the little man, walking into a little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper -no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of the point."
The Supreme Court in Association of Democratic Reforms case [2002 (5) SCC 294] had extracted Churchill's quote in the judgment while ordering candidates to declare their educational, wealth and criminal antecedents to enable that `little man' to make an informed choice while voting.
In the recent elections, the little men's choice shook most journalists and election experts, who for decades have held forth on television explaining why people vote in a particular manner. They failed to gauge the voter's mood by more than a mile.Why did such knowledgeable journalists and poll experts go wrong in assessing the people's mood so as to miss a massive mandate for one party in the most populated state?
There is a remarkable similarity of this to an incident narrated by famed hunter Jim Corbett in his book `Jungle Lore'. While he was travelling from Bombay to Mombasa on a ship in the 1940s, he overheard a conver sation between some people over a game of rummy . One was boasting about his forest conservator brother in central India and claimed he had recently spent 15 days deep inside the thickest of jungles. "There is nothing more I need to learn about jungles and the tigers," he said. Corbett concludes the narration by saying he had spent his entire life in the jungles and hunted many man-eaters on foot in the dense jungles of Kumaon. He concedes he has learnt only a little bit.
A journalist who travels for 15 days to cover campaigning and interacts with people here and there comes back to TV studios and talks as if he knows the pulse of voters. Poll experts, who ha ve been repeatedly proved wrong, continue to dish out their opinion based on arithmetical assumptions on caste driven voting. Wish elections were so simple! The stunning election results have wounded budding star AAP and established player BSP alike. Both have been beneficiaries of such stunning results - AAP in the last elections in Delhi by bagging 67 of 70 seats and BSP in 2007 in UP by bagging 206 of 403 seats. None had questioned the efficacy of electronic voting machines (EVMs) then.
But having been left to lick their wounds now, they have raised a din over alleged tampering of EVMs, which were introduced on a large scale from 1998 by the Election Commission.Congress, with a below par performance, too has joined the chorus on EVMs, suspecting the machines to be the cause of its debacle.
Subramanian Swamy was the first to advocate paper trail, or Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), to make EVMs gain confidence of voters. In response to his petition in the SC, the EC in an affidavit had said that EVMs provided by the commission "are of such high end technology that it cannot be hacked" and that they are "tamper proof ". The EC had also said that EVMs used in India were unique and unlike the ones used in the US and other countries, which were personal computer based. It said the efficacy and authenticity of votes recorded by the EVMs was lauded not only in India but abroad.
Despite this, the SC on October 8, 2013, in its judgment on Swamy's petition, said, "We are satisfied that `paper trail' is an indispensable requirement of free and fair elections. The confidence of voters in EVMs can be achieved only with the introduction of `paper trail'.EVMs with VVPAT system ensure the accuracy of the voting system. With the intent to have fullest transparency in the system and to restore the confidence of voters, it is necessary to set up EVMs with VVPAT system because vote is nothing but an act of expression which has immense importance in a democratic system."
No system, be it EVM or any other, can be classified good or bad depending on the result it throws up. And for journalists, poll experts and analysts as well as politicians, the recent election results have certainly rephrased Churchill's words, "At the bottom of all tributes paid to democracy is the little man, walking into a little booth with a little voter Icard, giving a little push on a little button - no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of the point."