Epistemology Of Officialdom
Once upon a time there was a socialist democratic bureaucratic republic of XYZ. The country was a democracy since elections were held regularly but all powers rested with the officials who were above all laws and enjoyed immunity under the Constitution. The officials were always concerned about the people of the country in their own ways, which not many understood.
The country had a law under which no one was allowed to make a lock except under a license from Lock Commission of XYZ (surely, locks are vital for internal security of a country). Lock Commission was an independent body set up under the Constitution and took no orders from anyone. A Committee of Wise Men appointed by The Commission had tested and approved designs of various locks at one point in history when the stars were favorable for such an activity. Any attempts to test or question the designs were looked upon as sheer blasphemy by the Commission. Unfortunately, the Commission had not been successful in getting the Parliament to pass a law making such attempts punishable by death. To keep lock making under tight security controls, only four public-sector manufacturers were licensed to manufacture locks.
Notwithstanding the perfect (officially announced to be so) locks, burglary was quite common in the country. In many cases of housebreaking, thieves used to open the lock using some method. The Lock Commission used to dismiss all such allegations of locks being opened by thieves as malicious propaganda by anti-social and anti-national elements. Their argument was that the locks were foolproof and tamper-proof since the Committee of Wise Men had certified that the locks were so at that opportune time in history. The Commission also argued that the locks were built using a special technology which made them the greatest locks on earth - of course, the technology had never been tested by anyone except the Committee of Wise Men.
Anyone who complained about locks being routinely opened by burglars was issued a notice to come at his own expense to the office of the Commission in the Capital at the time and date decided by the Commission to demonstrate how the lock was being broken by burglars. If the complainant said that he only knew that the burglars had broken into his house by breaking the lock and did not know how, the Commission dismissed his complaint and initiated action against the complainant for blasphemous propaganda against the Committee of Wise Men. This was a sufficient deterrent against frivolous complaints against the locks. It did happen on some rare occasions that some extraordinarily foolhardy madcap took the brave step of reaching the office of the Commission with the intention to demonstrate the tamper-ability of locks. The Chief of the Commission granted such fools exactly 37 seconds to break open a lock in the august presence of His Highness. If the fool argued that a thief usually had much more time at his disposal, his arguments were not considered worthy of consideration. At the end of 37 seconds, His Highness used to lose patience and order for the fool to be put behind bars (alas, His Highness could not order for his head to be cut off since XYZ was still a democracy).
The above fictional story might appear funny and ludicrous to some. But the fact is that the thought process of the Lock Commission is universal to all bureaucracy across the world and most specifically to powerful setups like Election Commission of India. Philosophers debating on various schools of epistemology (theory of knowledge - how do we know what we know?) and jurists discussing theories of evidence have never elaborated on the bureaucratic epistemology and theory of evidence. Let us call it the Epistemology of Officialdom. Basic principles of this school of theory of knowledge and evidence can be summed up as follows:
Law 1) No evidence is greater than the report of a Committee of Wise Men (also called Expert Committee) howsoever old.
Law 2) An event is said to have occurred if and only if it can take place repeatedly at the orders of His Highness in front of and as per the convenience of His Highness.
Law 3) His Highness or any committee / person appointed by His Highness need not furnish any evidence in support of any statement since all such statements are true by the very fact of their coming from the high office.
The above laws are fundamental truths that cannot be questioned by anyone without inviting the wrath of the Gods (read, high officers).
One cannot blame Election Commission of India if the High Ones there believe in and follow the above Epistemology of Officialdom. Their faith in the epistemology is only confirmed by the way the Commission has reacted to the doubts raised by various concerned citizens about electronic voting machines (evm's).
The fact that internationally evm's have come under a cloud has no meaning for the Commission since an Expert Committee had two decades ago decided that evm's are reliable (refer Law 1). The Commission asserts that the evm's are tamper-proof because of Law 3 and not based on any scientific evidence. In fact, a few years ago, as far as I know, some faculty members from IIT Delhi approached Election Commission for doing a project on reliability, foolproof-ness and tamper-ability of evm's. The Commission refused to give them evm's for the study citing security concerns. In the past three decades, no university or scientific institute or research institute in India has done any research on evm's due to the non-cooperative attitude of the Commission. If the Commission were to allow science to interfere in such matters, that would surely be against Law 3 of the epistemology of officialdom and will undermine the authority of the High Constitutional Office.
My co-petitioner, Mr. Shailendra Pradhan, (in the writ petition filed by us before MP High Court) contested the election for assembly elections held in 2008 from Bhopal south-west constituency. In one particular booth, election results showed that Mr. Pradhan received only 3 votes. Eleven voters who voted in the same booth have given affidavits declaring that they voted for Mr. Pradhan. To any lay man, this is clear evidence that something is wrong with the way evm's have been functioning. But the Election Commission does not think so.
The Commission strictly follows the second law of Epistemology of Officialdom. In the reply before the High Court, the Commission does not even touch on this irrefutable evidence, probably treating all such facts with contempt. Instead the Commission issued notices to Mr. Pradhan and me to appear before the High Office and demonstrate how evm's can be tampered. This is surely like asking someone whose house has been burgled to prove how the thieves got in (remember the Lock Commission). We pleaded with the Commission that we are not criminals and have no expertise in hacking evm's. But the commission would have none of such pleas. The Commission concluded that evm's are reliable, foolproof, tamperproof and hacker-proof.
Election Commission of India needs to be complimented that it has taken such a quick and clear view in the matter. In the Epistemology of Officialdom, there is no time-limit for the High Offices to deliberate on a matter. The country has recently seen a Commission taking almost two decades to decide on a matter and produce a report that in the eyes of the common man is not worth the paper it is printed on.
Clarity and sharp mind of institutions like Election Commission of India about Epistemology of Officialdom is surely the basis on which India will one day move to become a full-fledged bureaucratic republic without any of the hassles of democracy, socialism etc. Of course, then the questions and doubts about reliability of evm's will become meaningless.
Shall we compliment the Election Commission for its farsightedness or shall we hang our heads in shame?
30 January 2010
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ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer and a lawyer by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.
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