This is a piece of political satire. Readers are requested to bear the same in mind and proceed with caution.
Bearing in mind the democratic character of elections in our country, the government has launched special “hide-and-seek” training programmes to launch troops who will catch any suspicious spies at the ballot box, trying to endanger free and fair elections in 2024.
Greetings Everyone! Would you like to hear a story? I can’t assure you if it’s fact or fiction, or perhaps it might be switching between those lines. Nonetheless, let’s just recite the tale.
In December 2023, the National Informatics Centre Services Inc. (NICSI) released a tender for procuring surveillance equipment, including drones and facial recognition technologies (FRT), for monitoring the union and state elections of 2024 as a part of the special “hide-and-seek” training programs. These programmes intend to train and launch specialised troops who will catch any suspicious spies (dangerous voters), trying to threaten the democratic character of the 2024 elections.
Just like in every epic saga, there is a hero, the hero’s best friend, and obviously a villain. And of course, in this tale, our precious government happens to be the hero. Poor them! All they were trying to do was protect our beloved democracy. I mean, they just tried to eliminate those damn spies. How will we safeguard our title as “the world’s largest democracy” otherwise? And the NICSI, as the typical hero’s best friend, just tried to support their best friend in this noble endeavour.
The said tender laid out plans for live-webcasting the polls and counting processes during elections and drafted the setting up of a “centralised command and control centre” to monitor activities in real time in order to “prevent unfair practices and maintain law and order at polling stations.” NICSI intended to achieve this by installing field surveillance vehicles, drones, systems extracting data from FRT for voters, IP-based cameras, LED TVs for screening the live data, and web-based audio and video streaming software on polling stations and counting halls.
Such noble intentions indeed! But of course, tragedy had to strike, and the menacing villain had to foil this plan!
The Election Commission of India (ECI) ordered the cancellation of the said tender and sent a notice to NCISI after the digital rights body, the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), sent a letter to the ECI expressing concerns over breaches of citizens’ privacy and the potential misuse of voter data on January 17, 2024, and tweeted about it. The ECI spokesperson tweeted,
When the NICSI tender came to our attention, the Commission directed NICSI to immediately cancel it. The said tender was not floated with ECI approval. The Commission shall not allow invasion of citizens’ privacy in any manner during elections.
The wretched ECI, of course, could not sit still while the valorous hero pursued their noble initiative. Apologies for letting my emotions get the best of me; I mean, it’s just a story. But why does the ECI keep trying to frame the government with absurd allegations like “the proposed use of monitoring and surveillance technologies is antithetical to a free and fair election” or “the extensive deployment of video surveillance equipment will hurt individual fundamental rights, particularly the right to privacy and dignity” and how “citizens have a legitimate expectation that their voting choices remain confidential and free from unwarranted scrutiny” and “voter surveillance is voter intimidation and hampers the conduct of free and fair elections” and blah, blah, blah!
But, unfortunately, in this story, the villain won.
The National Informatics Centre Services Inc., on January 19, 2024, cancelled its tender seeking proposals from companies to provide surveillance equipment. According to IFF (the villain’s best friend), ECI’s decision to withdraw the tender is a positive step. They believe that there also needs to be an investigation to determine how and why a tender with such far-reaching implications for citizens’ ability to vote freely and without fear was released in the first place.
The villain may have won this time or might just keep winning every single time (hopes of every idealistic citizen in a democracy), but obviously the hero will keep trying and will come back stronger! (unfortunate reality).
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Featured Image Credits: India Today