Former Election Commissioner: Decriminalize Defamation; BJP Dominates Social Media
NEW DELHI, (IANS) – Former Election Commissioner of India S.Y. Quraishi in his just-released book ‘India’s Experiment with Democracy: The Life of a Nation Through Its Elections’ (HarperCollins India), Quraishi, while referring to the recent disqualification of Rahul Gandhi, says it is a political environment charged with hate speech and vitriolic narratives.
“There should not be selective efficiency in disqualifying Opposition MPs in defamation cases while turning a blind eye towards the members of the ruling dispensation,” Quraishi writes. “The ruling party themselves are stating repeatedly that equity before the law is the cardinal principle and no one is above the law,” he notes.
Quraishi says it is high time that India must review and do away with the use of defamation cases, like in the case of most democratic countries, including the UK, USA and closer home, Sri Lanka, which have decriminalized the defamation law.
“It may do us well,” he says, if we follow these precedents.
On another equally contentious issue, that of tampering of EVMs, Quraishi emphasizes that it is impossible for anyone to tamper with the machines. EVMs, he reminds readers, have been in use for the last 20 or more years, and the country has seen constant changes of government at the Centre and in the states.
He points out that EVMs have a four-tier security system, starting with the technical safeguards. “The machines are made exclusively by two central public sector undertakings, Bharat Electronics Limited and the Electronics Corporation of India Limited, which make high security defense equipment.”
He adds: “The software is burnt on to a one-time programmable/masked chip so that it cannot be altered or tampered with. The machines are not networked either by wire or by anything wireless with any other machines or system, which rules out hacking.”
The other three security layers in EVMs, which the author mentions, are fool-proof protective custody in all stages of transportation; oversight by an independent Technical Advisory Committee; and the repeated clean chits given by high courts that heard petitions challenging the functioning of the ECI-EVM has been challenged before several high courts which after examining technicians and computer experts were satisfied that there is no possibility of tampering the EVMs.
Quraishi says the allegations of EVM tampering came into the limelight after AAP lost the Delhi municipal elections in 2017. The party has since been the most vocal critic of EVM tampering in the country.
On the Jammu and Kashmir Delimitation Report, the former ECI writes that the Kashmir-based mainstream political parties have alleged a pro-ruling party (BJP) bias in the report, which gives a clear advantage to the minorities of that region to consolidate the vote for a particular party.
“Mainstream parties have clearly rejected the report, claiming that it is politically motivated and certain to disempower the Kashmiris,” Quraishi writes in the book.
He goes on to also discuss the pros and cons of social media, its impact on elections, and its use by anti-social elements against Muslims, which has led to the lynching of not only Muslims, but of Dalits too.
Quraishi writes that the BJP dominates social media platforms and the money it spends on Facebook, Twitter and Google surpasses the budgets of all other political entities in India.
On Google, BJP accounted for 41.4 per cent of the political advertising (Rs 12.19 crore), with the DMK coming a distant second, accounting for 13.6 per cent (Rs 4 crore) and the Congress third, with 10 per cent (Rs 3 crore). The BJP also dominates Facebook, accounting for 14.7 per cent (Rs 4.3 crore) of the money spent on political advertising on the platform.
Quraishi of course notes that although Prime Minister Narendra Modi dominated social media platforms all this while, it was only after 2017 that Rahul Gandhi started getting his online strategy together after the Congress lost the Uttar Pradesh elections.
Quraishi points out that more than 23 crore Indians use the Meta-based WhatsApp, which makes the country a major player on the messaging biggest platform. Here, again, the BJP is in the most dominating position, and it is mainly via this platform that false, fake, and deliberate hate messages are spread against Muslims.
“There have been more than a dozen innocent civilians who have been murdered o lynched in broad daylight, influenced by WhatsApp-fueled hate-spewing, paranoia-inducing fake news,” writes Quraishi.
His observations are bound to trigger discussions, especially at a time when the country is heading towards a general election.