Sunday, May 25, 2014

Article: Modi's India: A Glint of Hope (Daily Pioneer)

Sunday, 25 May 2014 | Cleo Paskal | in Agenda

Across the globe, now that the world’s largest elections are through, capital cities are scrutinising India with the anticipation of seeing that sharp glint of strength which indicates they have channels of constructive pursuits. Essentially, Modi’s India spells strength and hope for those looking to break through boundaries
For the last few years, seen from the outside, India’s foreign policy has appeared lackadaisical, directionless, and occasionally contradictory, interspersed with sharp, bright glints of enormous potential. For example, the lack of regional responsibility regarding the coup in the Maldives was countered with the spectacular growth in the relationship with Japan.
Often, especially recently, these contradictions sometimes seem as though the system was fighting itself. The Rafale deal was announced, but stalled. A very high profile India-Japan summit was planned, but cancelled. The Italian Marines were charged, but allowed to go home. Twice. And, in another bright glint, dragged back.
There is a feeling abroad that Prime Minister designate Narendra Modi’s foreign policy will be much more consistent — and glinting. For those who benefited from the old system, there is concern. For those who think the world needs more India, there is anticipation. Everyone is waiting.India is the elephant in a quickly changing geopolitical room. So far, it has sat quietly as dragons, bears and eagles bite, roar and claw. Now capital cities around the world are turned towards Delhi, watching for signs of a stirring.
Different countries want different things from Modi’s India. China wants India to sit quietly on the sidelines as it stretches its wings. Japan wants a strong strategic and economic partner. France wants a market for its military hardware.But nothing is quite that simple, and even within each country, different groups have different priorities. And the bigger the country, the more complex the expectations.
For example, some in the United States want a continuation of business as usual. They will look closely at the new team, searching eagerly for old, friendly faces, knowing once they have that toehold, they will have leverage. Others in the US will look for major changes in the economic and tax systems that will allow India to grow, and bring them along with it. Still others will be looking at social policy, with some of those looking at India’s spiritual reawakening with hope. Others (especially those funded from outside the US) with anger.
Understanding the totality of the change is a challenge for the US (and the West in general) where interests tend to be contained in silos. For example, in the West, you are either ‘pro-business’ or an ‘environmentalist’, rarely both. From that narrow perspective, Prime Minister Modi’s complex, crosscutting approach can appear confusing. He was elected in large part on his promise to grow the economy. But one of his first public speeches after winning was on the near existential importance of cleaning up the river Ganga as soon as possible, and cleaning all of India by 2019. What’s a poor Walmart executive to think?
Prime Minister designate Modi’s holistic growth model is, of course, far more effective and stable over the medium and long term but, in the short term, specific outside interests who benefited from the status quo may feel it undermines their position. There is just too much money at stake for them to passively ride it out. They are likely to pick and choose policies to publicise (or misrepresent) that can undermine Modi at home and abroad. Which is why it will be crucially important that Modi’s entire team is above reproach, and performs. To be able to withstand the circling pressures, Modi needs not only to cleanse the Ganga, but the nation. And that starts at the top.
Modi’s success or failure has global implications. Currently, most middle or small powers engage to varying degrees with two main spheres. The Western one, based on a specific sort of capitalism and governance, and the Chinese one, which has its own set of norms. There is widespread discontent with the perceived slow development resulting from the Western model in places like Africa, Latin America and Asia, which is why China has moved in there so fast and so deep. But there are now growing concerns about China.
The path is open for India to offer a third way. It is not about India competing with the West or China, it is about India being something that the others aren’t, something that resonates deeply in many of the medium and smaller powers around the globe. And it starts with the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
Embedded in the concept itself are the values of faith (believing you are part of something greater than yourself) and family. Faith and family are core elements of many societies around the world. They shape the economy, the social structures and sense of identity. However, faith and family are seemingly lacking from the proudly secular and individual rights-based foreign policies of the West. Meanwhile, China actively represses and distorts religion at home and has destroyed the concept of the extended family through its single child policy.
The result is, when the West or China comes in to countries like those in Africa, Latin America, or the South Pacific, where faith and extended families are foundational, their externally imposed policies can result in severe societal dislocation and destabilisation.
India knows the challenges of development first hand. It knows the challenges of communal land, of limited access to capital, of tariff manipulation. It knows village economics and massive urban sprawl. It knows faith. And it knows family. There is hope in many countries around the world that India’s knowledge will combine with the long time horizon and inclusiveness implicit in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam to create partnerships that move away from the dominant zero-sum game ideology and towards shared, secure, stable development. Something that will benefit the West as well.
Similarly, there is a desire among many medium and smaller powers to move away from a system of hierarchical allegiances towards true alliances.
That was why the Devyani Khobragade case had such global resonance. The particulars of the case aside, this was perceived as India saying loud and clear, we want reciprocity. If you treat us in a certain way, we will treat you exactly the same way. We will force you to act like a responsible family member. That glint had a huge effect internationally. In Delhi, Ambassadors from Africa and Latin America congratulated Indian colleagues for their stance.
The incident also helped the US. Those who had been pushing for better relations with India now had a stick to go with the carrot of trade. And some of the recalcitrant old-schoolers were forced to accept that geopolitical realities were changing. As a result, there have been moves to adapt, hence the sudden departure of the Ambassador. But no system likes change. And there will be tremendous pressure on Modi to revert to  the way things were, even if that model hurts all parties over the long run.
Modi’s India has tremendous opportunities. He is coming to power at a time when there are epochal shifts in geoeconomics and geopolitics. In the same way that his holistic domestic policies are breaking through boundaries, he has the opportunity to reshape, and redefine, what is possible in international relations.All around the world, people are looking to India, hoping to see that sharp glint of strength and hope that means they have options.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Article: 'Miracles do happen': Honchos cheer advent of Modi (rediff)

May 16, 2014 20:49 IST
'As the TV showed Congress seats being lost one after another in Maharashtra, cheers went up.'
Cleo Paskal attends a vote-counting party in Mumbai that looked at the coming Modi Sarkar with hope and optimism.
Taciturn board members, last known to smile in the previous century, are beaming. Normally sombre company owners are bordering on the giddy. A chairman of the board is reading out joke tweets to appreciative laughter. In this room full of some of Mumbai's business elite, the mood is euphoric.
We are on the top floor of a five-star hotel. The floor-to-ceiling windows frame one of the world's most beautiful views, the graceful swoop of the Mumbai coastline. But none of the around 60 people in the room is looking. At this vote-counting party they are focused on the three TV screens against the back wall -- each tuned to a different channel, all covering the election results.
They are sometimes laughing, sometimes slipping out of the room to make gleeful calls, and sometimes shouting out numbers: "272", "300", and among the most optimistic (and Constitutionally aware) "366!"
The people in this room know many of the regional (at least) MPs personally. One tells me that a basic permission that takes one day and zero rupees in Gujarat, can take months and definitely more than zero rupees in Maharashtra.
Cheers go up as specific incumbents are declared as 'trailing'. Party poppers come out as the BJP crosses 200. Cake is ordered as they cross 300.
There is a feeling of semi-stunned, gleeful liberation. And of pure relief. For the past years, they feel their companies were strangled by red tape and that they have had to beg for the pleasure of paying a 'fee' just to breathe. They don't want an advantage, they don't want corruption, they just want a level playing field, where the rules are clear, and growth is stable. They want to work. And they want India to work.
For many, I was told, this was more than just an election, it was a fight to get back a lost decade and put India back on track to 10 per cent-plus growth. In the last decade of United Progressive Alliance rule -- and especially in the second term -- there was a sense of desperation, frustration and aimlessness among those in this room (and across the nation) that the country was not developing, and vast potential was not being realised.
They felt that the UPA was not only impeding the growth of domestic companies and new ventures, but even actively blocking the progress of otherwise flourishing businesses with tax-terrorism, crony capitalism, and malign neglect, especially in the foundational infrastructure sector.
And here in Mumbai, the commercial capital of the country, it was a constant assault on momentum. For some political leaders, Mumbai has been the cash cow of Maharashtra, and those in the room were feeling decidedly drained. It was a case, they said, of the parasites killing the host.
They talked about an example of this 'exploitative tax terrorism' -- the 'ready-reckoner' or 'circle rates'. The revenue department of the state government sets the circle rate -- a floor price for a property based on its location. The stamp duty is based on the circle rate.
In Mumbai, even while many property prices dropped to below existing circle rates, circle rates themselves were increased, in some cases by more than 30 per cent year-on-year.
This means that even if the market rates are lower than the circle rate, sellers can't sell without risking being investigated for taking cash, and regardless have to pay the higher tax rate.
In their view, this paralysed the property market, and made it nearly impossible for many to get started on the property ladder.
Small wonder that, as the television showed Congress seats being lost one after another in Maharashtra, cheers went up.
One of the most excited clusters in the room was the younger group. As with under-30s across the country, there was a strong identification with Modi's anger and frustration at economic entropy.
According to one young businessman: "An entire generation born in the 1980s, myself included, feels like we have lost the best working years of our lives due to the apathy and misgovernance of the present regime. We couldn't help build the country. A lot of us who are lucky enough to afford it were thinking of going abroad, to places like Hong Kong, Dubai, London and New York so we could at least accomplish something from there."
"Perception affects reality and now the world's perception about India will change for the better. The perception is that Modi's India will be less corrupt, more predictable, more stable, more business friendly. This will lead to less red tape, which will lead to more investment, and more jobs. I am looking forward to working, living in and building an India led by Modi. Miracles do happen."
Outside the floor-to-ceiling windows, Mumbai looks the same as it did seven hours ago when counting began. But the people in this room have changed. They have hope. And now the hard work begins. But first, more party poppers and cake.
Image: Narendra Modi: Photograph: Reuters.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Coverage on reporting

The article on EVMs was picked up in several other venues, including:

New Delhi: The crucial process of counting the votes will begin tomorrow on Friday, May 16th and the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) have played an essential role and will continue to do so.
The Huffington Post, an American news website, has raised serious questions about the credibility of EVMs at such a critical time when India is just a day shy of getting the results of Lok Sabha Elections.
The doubts raised by the website are not only confined to the machines but they are also related to the authenticity of election process in the country.
Cleo Paskal, an Associate Fellow at Royal Institute of International Affairs, wrote an article for the website and claimed that the results of 2009 elections were doubtful. It was estimated that the results declared were not accurate.
Click here to read the complete story.
Meanwhile, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy also tweeted on Thursday that around EVMs of around 25 to 40 were tampered but even then National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will be able to win following the Modi ‘wave’. He has always been someone who had opposed the modern machines at several occasions.
This is not for the first time, that someone has doubted the authenticity of the machines. The article published on the Huffington Post website say that only EVMs can come in the way of Narendra Modi to stop him from becoming the next PM as exit polls have already projected his elevation.

An EVM tag found by AAP candidate Medha Patkar's workers on roadside
in Mumbai, about which she complained to the Election Commission
By Our Representative
World’s powerful online media chain “Huffington Post”, two days ahead of the Lok Sabha poll results, had said that the electronic voting machines (EVMs) in Indian polls could be easily manipulated. In an authoritative blog by Cleo Paskal, adjunct faculty, Manipal University, India, the HuffPost, as it is popularly called, said EVMs were unsuccessful in several countries of the world, including the Netherlands, Germany, and Ireland, after they were found to manipulate poll results. Interestingly, Paskal said, the exit polls had predicted Narendra Modi would win the polls, and “the only thing that might stand in his way is an electronic voting machine (EVM).”

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Article: How Secure Are India's Elections? (Huffington Post)

According to exit polls, Narendra Modi is likely to be declared the next Prime Minister of India. The only thing that might stand in his way is an electronic voting machine (EVM).

The problems with EVM security have been widely known since the large-scale irregularities in Florida during the 2000 elections.
Many countries have moved to get rid of them. In 2006 Dutch TV aired adocumentary showing how easy it was to hack the EVMs that were about to be used in their general election. The machines were subsequently withdrawn and the Netherlands went back to paper ballots.
Germany has declared EVMs unconstitutional.
And, after spending close to $75 million on its EVMs, Ireland found them to be so insecure they literally scrapped them.
In 2009, Steve Stigall, a CIA cybersecurity expert, told the U.S. Election Assistance Commission there were concerns over electronic vote-rigging in Venezuela, Macedonia and Ukraine. According to the McClatchy report on his testimony:
[Stigall] said that elections also could be manipulated when votes were cast, when ballots were moved or transmitted to central collection points, when official results were tabulated and when the totals were posted on the Internet.
Concerns about the Indian EVMs were raised during the 2009 election in part as a result of an astounding discovery on the Elections Commission of India (ECI) website. Dr. Anupam Saraph, at the time Chief Information Officer for the city of Pune, and Prof. M D Nalapat, Vice-Chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, discoveredfiles on the ECI website that seemed to show election results days before votes were actually cast and counted.
India's 2009 elections were held in 5 phases, running from April 16 to May 13. Counting was not supposed to begin until all the phases were complete. Before the voting started, Saraph and Nalapat decided to track the elections and create a wikifor constituencies and candidates, with data sourced from Excel files on the ECI website.
The ECI spreadsheets contained what you would expect: candidate's name, gender, address, party, etc. But, starting May 6, the spreadsheet changed and something unexpected was added.
From May 6 onwards, the candidate's name was 'coded', based on their position on the EVM, and the number of 'votes polled' were added, even though voting had yet to take place in many constituencies and, even where voting had taken place, votes were yet to be counted. Even more confounding, the 'votes polled' numbers were adjusted in subsequent spreadsheets before the results were announced.
Courtesy of Dr. Anupam Saraph. Data files archived here.
The team immediately alerted the National Informatics Centre (NIC) and the ECI that it looked like their website was posting results before voting had been completed. The NIC responded within an hour confirming the observation and itself alerting the ECI. There was no response from the ECI.
On May 16, the election results were declared. On that day the spreadsheet on the ECI website contained candidate's name, gender, address, party, etc. just like on April 16, but with no votes cast data at all -- making pre and post election comparison with the peculiar 'votes polled' numbers impossible.
Subsequently, a team of IT specialists, including J. Alex Halderman from the University of Michigan, Electronic Frontier Foundation's Pioneer Award winner Hari K. Prasad, and Dutch Internet pioneer Rop Gonggrijp, used an actual Indian EVM to demonstrate two ways it could be hacked.
As Florida voters (and watchers of Scandal) know, often elections come down to just a few precincts in a few constituencies. Those wishing to swing an election need only manipulate a few well-chosen machines. Less than that if the goal is just to ensure specific people gain or maintain their seats.
Worried about the safety of their democracy, concerned citizens got involved. Former Minister for Law, Commerce and Justice, Dr. Subramanian Swamy, took up the mantle and went to the Supreme Court of India, winning a ruling that the Indian EVMs would at least have to prove a paper trail.
However, only 8 of 543 constituencies in this election have a Vote Verifier Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system. And there have already been reports of serious EVM malfunction, with two machines reportedly transferring all votes cast to Congress. This is apart from the separate issue of inaccurate voter lists, which saw at least hundreds of thousands of voters being disenfranchised, resulting in an apology from the Election Commission, but no revote.
Whatever happens with this election, there is going to have to be a serious rethink about how the ECI, and elections, are run in India. Those who have the upper hand this time, may not be so lucky next time. Do they really want to open that box? There can't even be the whiff of impropriety. In a country that believes in democracy, EVM rigging isn't stealing an election, it's stealing the soul of a nation.
According to CIA cybersecurity expert Steve Stigall:
wherever the vote becomes an electron and touches a computer, that's an opportunity for a malicious actor potentially to . . . make bad things happen.
India's democracy is a one of the wonders of the world. As in all democracies, the solemn act of vote casting is the one moment when everyone is equal, everyone is valued, everyone is part of the nation and everyone's voice gets heard.
If that voice is stifled or stolen, if that safety valve is closed, if that compact between the individual and the state is ruptured, then that delicate relationship is broken and the individual owes nothing to the state. And that, as the man says, can certainly make bad things happen.