What the Election Commission and Indian news TV can learn from the US

Why can’t we start counting votes once polling gets over? That would address suspicions of EVM tampering. Why do Indian TV channels give so much air time to Modi and Shah to say whatever they want?

Photo Courtesy: Twitter/ @Reuters
Photo Courtesy: Twitter/ @Reuters
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Ranjona Banerji

American democracy at work has been quite a spectacle for the rest of the world. Forget the cynics. And especially after the last four years of the Trump administration creating havoc in every aspect of government, America’s democratic institutions and in the social fabric of the nation. Like all far-right rulers, Trump’s first task was to bring fault lines to the surface and then exploit them for electoral benefit.

But to watch the system push back in this moment of change is remarkable.

And even more remarkable is to watch the rank hypocrisy of the Indian intelligentsia.

For one, the amazing smug sanctimonious superiority over India’s apparently infallible vote-counting system.

Really?

Yes, there was a time when we did improve from our earlier spotless record of open rigging, falsification of voters’ lists, removal of names and disappearance of votes. Yes, the electronic voting machines did seem at one time to be magically non-corrupt. But too many questions have been raised since 2014 and too many discrepancies shrugged off, for anyone to have full confidence in our EVMs anymore.

Besides, it was clear from day one and explained to anyone interested that this US presidential election’s counting was going to be problematic because of Covid 19 and the high number of postal ballots. That is precisely why President Donald Trump tried to make postal ballots illegitimate and forced Republican supporters to go out and vote. He’s been screaming about this for days because he knew it would go against him. But you know our intelligentsia. Too clever by half.

Here’s my question to them: with our superior system, why don’t we start counting the second polling ends? That would make tampering difficult.


Why have staggered voting schedules? If America can manage counting immediately and produce results quite fast, with manual counting, for most presidential elections, why can’t we do that with state elections at least?

If that was not bad enough, how about Indian television anchors full of admiration for American broadcast networks ABC, NBC and CBS for cutting away from President Trump’s news conference where he alleged fraud in the counting process. The networks said that the president was lying without providing any proof and thus they could not air his false claims. Other news channels did not break away but either called him out on his lies or ran on-screen texts saying there was no evidence for what the president was saying.

This is the President of the United States and the US media. Any journalist should be full of admiration for this courage. But not Indian TV anchors. No one category of “journalists” has been more supplicating and spineless before the office of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi than India’s TV anchors.

Large sections of the American media have been at loggerheads with the White House from day one. By contrast, Indian “news” channels have been wilful and happy participants in the innumerable lies told to the Indian people by the Modi Government. The absolutely bravest angle these channels can take is to hide behind the Opposition: “Y or X party has questioned the government”. Contrast that to anchor Anderson Cooper of CNN likening Trump to an “obese turtle on his back, flailing in the hot sun realizing his time was over”.

When it comes to the Modi Government and the BJP, journalists in India have disgraced our profession in every possible way and it is largely because of Indian television. That is why this hypocritical “admiration” grates.

What stops them from doing some real journalism instead of taking selfies with Modi? Why allow Mohan Bhagwat of the RSS free airtime? Why give prominence to Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s electioneering visits to Bengal and not question him on his disappearance from the public eye, his health and his role in the miserable state of the nation? Why show us this nonsense of Modi posing with peacocks while large numbers of Indians grapple with Covid?

No democracy can function without a free, fearless and frank press, or free mass media. We see this in America. And we must actually weep as we go back to watching the bogus drama over TV anchor Arnab Goswami screaming about police brutality in Maharashtra over a small scratch on his arm.

But we ignore 83-year-old social activist Father Stan Swamy arrested by the National Investigating Agency and jailed in Taloja. He has Parkinson’s and has requested a sipper to drink water. The prosecution has been given 20 days to respond. Let that sink in while we wallow in our superiority.


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