Saturday, April 19, 2014

Wanna know how elections would be a century ahead?

A day after having voted in the 2014 general elections – dubbed the world’s largest – here’s my imaginative construct of the polls 100 years into the future, a la H G Wells!

No sooner did the extra-sensory perception-based alarm chime did X wake up. This was the around the time when such clocks went off almost simultaneously in a good number of houses in the neighbourhood. Repeated appeals for a staggered schedule in setting the clocks went unheeded despite complaints of ESP interference from nearby residents. As the electro-magnetic wave activated teapot whistled, X mused, “Hard to imagine that people once complained of phenomena such as telephone interference and cross-talk.” The reason for the spring in X’s activities was that he would get to see, first-hand, the implementation of telepathic voting machines – his dream invention that secured him a Nobel prize – in the elections for the first time. A sensor would analyse what was going on in the voter’s mind and make the appropriate selection.

X became a laureate for his voting device, ahead of other revolutionary inventions that, in an era of scarce resources, championed recycling such as reusable contraceptives and the Nokia 1100 smartphone. The seed for the invention lay in media reports that one could alter the count in EVMs with the aid of powerful magnets. Television debates soon started talking of a time when a certain Union minister P Chidambaram was said to have won through suspicious means in a poll in Tamil Nadu, at a time when the EVMs were touted as tamper-proof. In no time, the demand as well as the prices of magnets went up, leading to the creation of the elite ‘magnet magnates’. Hence, he decided to design the machine entirely with non-magnetic material.

A quick glance at the news updates that appeared on the outer wall of his Wi-Fi enabled tea cup showed that he was as big a newsmaker as the electoral process itself. While the top headlines were “Sergey Brin’s family files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection” and “India’s ESP man sounds death-knell for Google Glass”, others focused on the stage being set for the conduct of India’s biggest elections. A choicer profile of his, by the Wall Street Journal, contained the blurb, in a sans-serif font that he disliked, “While one national party suggested that his research was backed by Italian sources in Delhi, another suggested that it was likely that his funds were siphoned off from those meant for a rural employee guarantee scheme.” The article encapsulated X’s torrent of trials and tribulations before the device finally saw the light of day. However, the Nobel Prize changed it all.

Suddenly political parties, including remnants of the Left that had mocked at him as the new-age AAP, were all over him. In a matter of time, conventional electronic voting machines were phased out and replaced with their ESP counterparts. The EVMs gradually made their way to places where they would raise maximum eyebrows – such as museums in Saudi Arabia, People’s Republic of China and Russia.

X made an effort to put away such thoughts as he readied himself. On the streets, the crowds had started to make their presence felt, out of fancy for the new machines. It seemed appeals by religious leaders to shun voting as they would start idolising these gadgets more than them, in the marquee show “The Nation wants to know” on the state broadcaster DD-Now, did not take effect. In fact, one such leader was said to have remarked that after many decades, such leaders could consider doing a Nityananda in order to stay relevant – that drew condemnation from the Jumma Masjid, Shankaracharya of Kanchi and the Vatican.

The general mode of public transport, teleportation stations, was witness to milling crowds early in the morning, with even pre-hour services running to maximum capacity. “Beam me up, Scotty” said X as soon as he mounted the platform at the teleportation station, but it wouldn’t budge. He remembered that the teleportation process often depended on one’s political bent. “Beam me up, Sonia, Sushma,” he cried out even louder, when it blacked out. “Shazia?” X muttered in disbelief, when in the next second, he landed with a thud at the polling booth. He stood in the queue, ignoring requests for autographs, politely returning smiles from everyone around.

As his turn came, he stood in front of the machine, awaiting a response. The ESP machine echoed: “You do not want to vote for a party that promotes sectarianism or instigates religious hatred?” X gave a curt nod. “You do not want to vote for a party that offers promises that cannot be delivered easily?” X nodded again. “You want to avoid parties that have indulged in widespread corruption and breach of ethics,” X’s smile grew to a toothy grin as he said “yes”. He was swelling with pride as the media camera bulbs flashed incessantly. “You do not want to vote for a party that places its interests above that of the nation?” X was looking up proudly, unable to control his mirth anymore.

The euphoria vapourised when the machine read out the message, “Congratulations, you have successfully voted. Your selection is highlighted in the paper trail.”

“But I never made a selection…” X’s voice trailed off.

“Changes can be new, but political parties aren’t. Haven’t you heard of the phenomenon called booth capturing?”

X swooned.