Honour must be restored to Hari Prasad
The harassment meted out by the Indian authorities to the trio of EVM
security researchers – Hari Prasad, Alex Halderman and Rop Gonggrijp –
for demonstrating that India’s electronic voting machines (EVMs) are
vulnerable to fraud is a case of shooting the messenger rather than
addressing the core problem i.e fixing EVM vulnerabilities.
Two developments in the last week substantiate my charge of harassment.
On December 15, hearing the Mumbai police’s application seeking
cancellation of bail of Hari Prasad in the “missing” EVM case, Principal
sessions judge M.L. Tahaliyani thoughtfully observed that the (Mumbai)
police was only concentrating on Hari Prasad’s custody either
deliberately or out of ignorance.
EVM theft case: Court slams cops for shoddy probe
A couple of days earlier, Alex Halderman, assistant professor at the
University of Michigan, U.S. and Rop Gonggrijp, security researcher from
the Netherlands were detained at the Delhi airport upon their arrival
though they were holding valid visas. They were permitted entry only
after helpful intervention by the Election Commission of India (ECI)
stating that it had no objection to their visit despite their differing
views on the Indian EVMs.
EVM flaw-finders issued visa by mistake
All the three researchers acted in public interest to show that
India’s EVMs have vulnerabilities that must be fixed. None of the three –
Hari Prasad and the two foreign researchers – had any personal or
commercial interest to demonstrate this.
What is the reward that we have given them? Hari Prasad was arrested
for “theft and trespassing” and the two foreign researchers were given a
humiliating treatment when they came visiting suspecting them to be
hatchers of an “international conspiracy” to discredit India’s voting
Is this how we as a nation view things? Do we see everything from the prism of conspiracies? Are we so intolerant of dissent?
One may ask how the public interest has been served by the efforts of
Hari Prasad and his co-authors. Various actions initiated by the
Election Commission of India (ECI) over the past eight months show that
the findings of research have led to a slew of measures to strengthen
the EVM security.
For instance, the ECI has issued elaborate guidelines for storage and
safekeeping of EVMs all over the country. It has issued more elaborate
guidelines for first level checking of EVMs and mock polls in Bihar
polls. These have enhanced the security of EVMs, though more remains to
The ECI’s actions have brought to fore some unpalatable facts.
“Disappearance” of as many as 4000 EVMs in Andhra Pradesh and sale of
‘stolen’ EVMs to scrap dealers in Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh) by rag
pickers are some harsh truths that came to light recently. (See below)
Rigging stink over 4000 ‘missing’ EVMs in Andhra Pradesh
December 6, 2010, Mail Today, Delhi
6 EVMs recovered from scrap dealers
December 6, 2010, Times of India, Hyderabad
PERTINENT ISSUES IN HARI PRASAD’S CASE
In our system of representative democracy, elections provide the only
occasion when the people directly exercise their sovereign power.
Immediately thereafter this power is ceded to the elected
representatives. If this sacred power is vitiated by exploiting
loopholes in the security of EVMs, our democracy is seriously
Hari Prasad and his co-authors have used an EVM provided to
them for ensuring that the voting system and its vulnerabilities are not
exploited by unscrupulous elements.
Mumbai police themselves acknowledge that Hari Prasad had not
‘stolen’ the EVM in question. He was merely in the possession of an
Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) which he had used for demonstration
The Mumbai police has many questions to answer:
1) How did the police press charges of theft and trespassing
against Hari Prasad even when they knew that he was not responsible for
the ‘alleged’ theft?
2) Were these charges drummed up against him purely for harassment and intimidation? Isn’t this abuse of police powers?
3) Why did the Mumbai police continue to harass Hari Prasad insisting on his daily attendance at
the MRA Marg police station in Mumbai for almost a month in
contravention of the bail order granted by the Metropolitan magistrate
on August 28?
4) Why are the Mumbai police still pressing for Hari Prasad’s
custody when they already had him in custody for eight days in August
this year, something that was condemned worldwide and he had told them
everything that he knew?
5) Should the police be allowed to abuse its powers in a case
like this where Hari Prasad had nothing to gain personally? Or, is there
more to the whole story than what meets the eye. The Mumbai police must
come clean in this matter.
If being in possession
of a government property for some time is enough grounds for arresting
and jailing someone, this argument could be stretched to throw the
entire Indian media into jail for leaking the CAG report on Spectrum
scam, Niira Radia tapes and making public privileged correspondence
between former telecom minister A. Raja and prime minister Dr. Manmohan
Initially, the Election Commission of India had some misgivings about
the efforts of election transparency activists. The Government of India
also viewed these efforts as a conspiracy against India’s voting
system. Arrest of Hari Prasad and detention of foreign researchers were a
result of such misgivings.
But over the months the Election Commission has realized that the
activists and researchers have no vested interests except a reform in
the voting system and has positively responded to suggestions by
initiating several actions. It was ECI’s active intervention that lifted
the embargo on the foreign researchers to visit the country recently.
It would be in the
fitness of things if the government of Maharashtra also withdrew its
complaint against Hari Prasad and other activists. As the EVM allegedly
stolen is the property of Election Commission of India, the ECI would be
well within its rights to ask the Maharashtra government to withdraw
all charges against the EVM researchers.
Hari Prasad has received the prestigious Pioneer award from the
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), San Francisco for his efforts in
While international recognition is welcome, what Hari Prasad needs at home is justice and not another round of police custody.
Hon’ble Judge M.L. Tahaliyani – who awarded death sentence to
Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab in the 26/11 case for waging war against
the nation – will pronounce his judgment this week on the Mumbai
police’s application for cancellation of Hari Prasad’s bail. This is not
merely a routine application for cancellation of bail in a ‘theft’ case
but one that will set a legal precedent as to how this country and its
judicial system treat its heroes who are willing to stake their personal
security for the sake of nation’s good.
I shall blog again this week after the judgment in the Hari Prasad’s case.
I can be contacted at nrao@indianEVM.com