Thursday, May 21, 2009

India's election methods: Is there an alternate method?

All through our life, we have to make choices. We make these choices based on certain needs and desires that we have. From small things like buying a toothpaste to larger things like picking up a job or buying a house for ourselves. But everytime we set out to exercise our choice, we have a backup plan, an alternative. With the toothpaste, it can be choice of brand or size of the tube, etc. With jobs, it can be choice of location, variation in job profile, salary, etc. The bottom line is that we always have a plan laid out- if this isn't available, then I'll settle for that.

In my previous post, I mentioned how candidates who have secured around 33% votes have been declared winners. Despite the fact that around 67% of the people who cast their votes, have done so against the winning candidate. This scenario should actually call for a tweak in the election system that is being followed currently. There are suggestions of a US-style run-off, but this would mean conducting two elections and it would happen across many constituencies. This, would further increase the expenditure towards elections and the already low turnout, would reduce further if there are back-to-back elections.

Another option, that is being used in Australia and in some cities in the US, is called the instant run-off. This option is similar to the scenario I mentioned in the first paragraph. In this scenario, people would indicate a preference of candidates in decreasing order. Instead of having to indicate preferences for all candidates, it can be restricted to indicating three preferences. In some constituencies of India, there are more than forty candidates contesting, which would turn off people from voting as they would have to indicate those many preferences. Suppose there are four candidates in the fray for a particular seat. This indication of preferences can be optional if needed. So, if a voter need not indicate his/her 2nd or 3rd preference. A voter's voting preference can be as seen in the table below.

CandidateChoice 1Choice 2Choice 3

Thus, the voter indicates that A is his 1st choice, B his 2nd and D his 3rd.

When the results are being processed, it can be done in the following manner. First look at the number of votes, each candidate has received as first preference. If any candidate has received more than 50% of the votes polled, he/she can be straight away declared as the winner. If any candidate does not secure more than 50% votes, then the top three candidates are taken and then count the number of votes each received as 2nd preference. Now, add the votes each of these received as 1st preference and 2nd preference in the following manner-

votes for a candidate = (votes as 1st choice) + m*(votes as 2nd choice)

where, 0.5<m<1. A reasonable choice can be m=0.75.

total votes = total votes as 1st choice + m*(total votes as 2nd choice)

Total votes as 2nd choice imply the number of voters who have polled for a candidate as their 2nd choice. This candidate need not be amongst the top three. This choice would eliminate those voters who haven't indicated a 2nd or 3rd choice of candidates. Fractional votes, if any, should be rounded off to the next highest integer.

At the end of this round, if a candidate secures more than 50% votes, he/she should be declared winner. If not, again take the first two and add the votes each secured as 3rd choice in the following manner-

votes for a candidate = (votes as 1st choice) + m*(votes as 2nd choice) + n*(votes as 3rd choice)

where, n=0.5. At this point, the person with the maximum number of votes will have to be declared winner. No matter if he/she has secured more than 50% votes. This is one of the flaws of the system. But, this would still reduce the instances where the winner is the person who has secured just 33% of the votes. There would be more people who would have the winning candidate as one of their preferred choice, rather than having nothing more than a yes/no to say.

A question that may arise here is the difficulty in asking people to do so. Many people may frown at the need to indicate three choices. In every system, a change from status-quo meets some resistance. But, educating the masses can certainly help us overcome this hurdle. It happened when EVMs were introduced. It will happen again if a new system is introduced. But, if the benefits exceed the troubles taken, then time and efforts should definitely be involved in this. As for the technology, we have a large pool of engineers who can be employed on developing systems that can handle such algorithms. Like the EVMs, this to can be developed with indigenous technology and manpower.

Caution: This is a proposed system or process. Like every man-made system or process, this too may have its faults. And like every other system or process, it can be improved till the point it is replaced by a better one.
India's election methods: Is there an alternate method?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, May 18, 2009

Elections 2009: Do results really reflect ground reality?

The Great Indian Political League 2009 threw a lot of surprises. These surprises surprised even those who caused the surprises. Before and during the elections every analyst was describing the kind of surprise that will be witnessed in these elections. After the results, they are now trying to explain why those surprises didn't occur. In this era of "breaking news" syndrome, the media tries to keep churning stories upon stories. The constant bombarding of varied news content doesn't leave time for the common man to sit back and analyse the data peacefully. And therefore, we believe the media most of the time. Being a Ph.D. student most people, from my relatives, friends and even people who do not know what a Ph.D. is, believe that I have all the time in the world. So, it doesn't do harm to keep that belief intact. Just as we like to believe that the Congress, SP and RJD are secular, but BJP is communal. So, I took some time off and decide to dig a little bit about the result. This is my analysis of the election results.

Let us accept one fact that most of the media in India is pro-Congress, rather anti-BJP. That is why the media kept playing about Narendra Modi and his connection with the Gujarat riots. I remember a news channel advertisement, where it was providing snippets of an interview with NaMo, that was to be broadcast later. The snippets kept repeating the interviewer's question on the riots to NaMo and NaMo's brushing aside the question. Now, if this snippet is shown in every break up to hours before the full telecast, imagine the effect it will have on the viewer. Remember, till now no court has ever proved that NaMo is guilty, nor is there any judgement which states that NaMo is hindering the investigations. But, NaMo is guilty until proven innocent. On the other hand, the Congress is treated softly by the media. No demolishing of the Congress for giving tickets to Sajjan Kumar and Jagadish Tytler. Just see how softly Barkha Dutt interviewed Priyanka Gandhi. Nor did the Prime Minister's statement about Ottavio Quattrochi receive enough coverage and demolition that it deserved. So, the media was involved in biased reporting.

Now, coming to the analysis of the results. First, the voter turnout was around 58% over India as a whole. So, let us forget the other 42%. Most of them deserve to be stuck with the MPs that came through. But, as the media claims, have people really elected for stability? Recounting Navjyot Singh Sidhu's Sidhuism, "Statistics are like bikinis, what they reveal is interesting, what they conceal is vital." To support this, I'm now giving the case of two constituencies here, one where the Congress was elected and the other where its ally the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) was elected.

The first one is Mumbai North. Sanjay Nirupam of the Indian National Congress (INC) defeated Shri Ram Naik of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Mr. Nirupam polled 255157 votes, whereas Mr. Naik polled 249378 votes. The difference between the winning and losing candidate: a mere 5779 votes. The total votes polled in Mumbai North were 683975. So, percentage-wise Mr. Nirupam got 37.31% of the votes. Which means, a whopping 62.69% of the voters rejected Mr. Sanjay Nirupam.

The second is Mumbai North East. Mr. Sanjay Patil of the NCP polled 213505 votes, while the runner up, Mr. Kirit Somaiyya of the BJP polled 210572 votes. The difference: a mere 2933 votes. Here, the total votes polled were 667904. Percentage-wise, Mr. Patil got 31.96% votes, lesser vote percentage than Mr. Nirupam. In this case, 68.03% of the voters rejected Mr. Patil.

These may appear selective statistics, but then all over India, there have been many constituencies, even the prestigious Sivganga constituency, where such close contests have been witnessed. So, how much value does statements "Mandate rejection of caste politics" and "A vote in favour of a new dawn" or "A thoughtful verdict for stability" hold? Since India's election is about first past the pole, there will be a large number of people who will reject this statement. At least those who voted against Messrs Nirupam and Patil would do so.

In this election the Indian voter has just showed how many choices they have and that few candidates enjoy the support of the majority. If this was a mandate for the UPA, at least half of their elected MPs should have had secured more than 50% votes in their constituencies. But this is not the case as we see from the two examples above. I am sure that many of the elected MPs have come to the Parliament with similar vote shares. This is the flaw in our democratic system and we have to live with it until someone comes across with a better alternative.

P.S. All figures for votes and voting percentages have been compiled from the Election Commission of India's website.
Elections 2009: Do results really reflect ground reality?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Saturday, May 16, 2009

On the back of my mind

Sometimes, we hear statements that get etched on our mind for a very long time. We may forget the context in which that statement was made, who made it, etc. but the statement can be clearly recalled any time of the day. I do not know why have these statements been there in my mind for me to recall them. I have actually forgotten the context of many of those. In a few cases, I've even forgotten at what place and time did I here the statement. Sample these

1. This is sometime around 1994-95. My father and me were waiting on the New Delhi airport after the security check to board a flight, probably to Bangalore. From the public telephone, a lady was calling up somebody and suddenly she screamed into the phone- "Hailllo Papppuuuuuu !!" Me and my father just stared at each other and had a good laugh. That is all I can remember about the event. Nothing else.

2. This is some cricket match in which India was involved. A one-day international. Ajit Agarkar, at that time was relatively new and was brimming with raw pace. This was before he visited the MRF pace academy and Dennis Lillee, instead of helping him increase his pace, reduced it and thus ruined Agarkar's career. Coming back to the match. Agarkar was back into the side after being out because of injury. India was fielding, Agarkar was the bowler and Ravi Shastri was the commentator. Agarkar bowled a delivery and immediately took a wicket. I do not remember the mode of dismissal, but part of Shastri's commentary was "... and Agarkar is back, to his wicket taking ways." This piece of Shastri's commentary still rings in the back of my mind, while I remember nothing else about that match. Not even the opposition!

3. I used to attend summer camps in my childhood. I've attended two such camps. After that, I consider my childhood as over. In one such camp, we were being told a story. It was supposed to be a comedy story, as it was being told to kids. It was about some lady who had come to Pune city from a village and didn't understand the city. Somewhere in the story the lady mentions to someone, "माझा भाऽव ड्यॅक्कन कॉलेजाऽऽऽत सुपारी टुण-टुण हाय", which means, "my brother is a superintendent at Deccan College." In this case too, I do not remember the story, but this sentence has been etched into my memory.

4. This was when cable TV was new in India. They had a game show on Star Plus, called "The Crystal Maze". In the final round of this game show, the participants used to gather inside a large crystal shaped dome. Their job was to collect the maximum number of gold and silver foils in a specific time. The gold foils carried more points than silver foils. The team that scored the maximum points used to win. These foils were blown into the crystal dome using blowers that created air currents turbulent enough to set the foils in a Brownian motion. After the team had gathered into the dome and the dome gate locked, the host used to say his trademark sentence- "Will you start the fans, please." This sentence too rings at the back of my mind, though I remember very little of this show.

BTW, Breaking News, I just found old videos of The Crystal Maze on YouTube.

I find this ability of the brain pretty amazing. Retaining bits and pieces of information that have flashed only momentarily. But on the flip side, there are some equations that I see daily, but can not remember them if anybody asks about them later. There may be many more such incidents stored in the back of my mind, which I cannot recall right now, but it would be interesting to jot them down as and when I recall them.
On the back of my mindSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, May 11, 2009

Walking into.... just another day

He opened his eyes slowly and uncomfortably. Slowly, because he had slept after 12:30 AM in the night and it was just 5:50 AM in his watch. Barely, a five hour sleep. Uncomfortably, because when he came to senses, he realised the moistness around his neck and chest caused by the sweating through the night. Damn the hot, humid summer and the stuffy room, he said. Since he had slept late last night, he was in no mood to get up. But, the sultry summer and his east-facing window didn't make things any better. He could never sleep if there was light entering into his room. Again, damn those people who designed this hostel, with windows facing east.

He woke up grudgingly, wiping the sweat off his body while trying to get a grip of the situation. His stomach belched violently and along with it left a taste of the beer he had last night. Moving out of the bed, he cursed himself for drinking and eating more than he could handle and for the millionth time vowed to reduce his alcohol intake. The next moment itself, he knew, he wouldn't be able to keep his own promise. Not that he was a habitual or regular drinker, but being a student, he couldn't spend too much on alcohol. This meant that very few treats involving alcohol would not go beyond beer. It had been a treat in his honour. For the past month, he had been helping his fellow Teaching Assistants (TAs) with their TA-work. Those TAs weren't acquainted with the work assigned to them, although being TAs meant that they should themselves have learnt those things. He had sacrificed his research work and had a shown-down with his advisor and himself lagged behind with his TA-work. His fellow TAs gave him a treat (and themselves enjoyed much more than he did) to express their gratitude for his help. And they drank and ate merrily till the waiter told them to place their last order.

Nevertheless, all the merry making was over and now he had to face the day after an improper sleep and with a hangover. While going through his daily chores, he began planning his day. In the planning stage itself, he conceded that he would be forgetting to do half of the stuff. Giving a sigh, he resolved to prepare a to-do list everyday, before starting off from the room. The mood was still not so good. The daily activity of washing clothes seldom interested him. Darn those councillors who put a ban on the practice of washing undergarments in the hostel's washing machine. They felt that undergarments can spread skin diseases, but soiled sports clothes cannot. Where did this common sense come from, he said to himself, cursing them again. Any ways, he went through his daily ablutions.

The cold shower removed all the discomfort and made him feel fresh. The bath left him with a feeling that one would have if he/she entered an air-conditioned room on a hot afternoon. This period of the day is what he liked most. Grooming himself for the day, he did it in style and pomp. Talcum powder to prevent clothes from sticking the body after it sweats, deodorant to ward off offensive body-odour, which invariably came back after a few hours. Later in the day, he would be asking himself, why does he spend so much on deodorants if they can't keep body-odour away for eight hours. This was followed by applying hair-oil to his scalp, to keep the hair silken and shiny. Clothes that were always carefully chosen, creased and never soiled, went on next. Soiled clothes immediately found themselves in the wash bin, from where he would put them to wash once a considerable number had accumulated. Finally, he sat for his daily prayers. He didn't miss them, always starting the day by reciting prayers to various Gods and Goddesses. The prayers were in four different languages- English, Hindi, Marathi and Sanskrit. He prided in having a good command over all four of them. But at the end of all the praying and hymn-chanting lied only two wishes that he repeated to God and hoped would come true soon. One, was that his progress in research should accelerate now, and two, he wanted to complete his Ph.D. before his TA-ship, alternately termed as stipend, runs out. Today too, he was repeating the same prayers to God, but with more rigour.

It was now time for him to start for his lab, where he would spend the entire day trying to work on his research problem. With a final look at himself, he then packed his sack to carry various things like books, papers, sheaves of documents, cheque-book (?), etc. to the lab. To make sure he hasn't forgotten anything, he took a final stock of his room. Once assured that everything he needed was on his person, he locked the room and headed straight to the mess, wondering what would be served for breakfast. For him, breakfast was the most important meal of the day. If he had a sumptuous breakfast, he wouldn't come back for lunch, thus utilising the extra time for his work. As he entered the mess, lost in his thoughts on organising the day's work, he was greeted with the aroma of steamed idli and fresh, hot sambar. It was just the type of breakfast he needed. Light on the digestive system, yet sumptuous enough to skip lunch. Today, though, the reason to skip lunch was different. He wanted to give some relief to the stomach after last night's overload. Still lost in his thoughts, he collected his breakfast and sat with a few friends who had already begun munching on their meal. The topics on breakfast table were generally the same everyday. What happened last night, the headlines in the morning newspapers, the breakfast itself, politics in the institute and many more rumours. They all discussed most of these events fervently, while simultaneously munching their breakfast. As he gulped down the last drops of tea, he rushed to catch the bus to the department.

With the day becoming hot already, he was happy about the internal transport system which, if non-existent would have meant that he would have to cycle to the department. On a hot, sultry summer day, this activity would be torturous, he thought. He boarded the bus and found a seat next to the window. On a normal day, the bus would be crowded with students at this point of time. He and many of his colleagues used to plan their mornings such that they land up at the bus stop just after the lectures had begun. This ensured that all students who needed to attend lectures would have gone, therefore reducing the rush in the bus. Being summer vacation time, the bus was relatively empty. Sitting in the window seat, he waited for the bus to start. Along with it, would begin his journey into another day of a research scholar's life.
Walking into.... just another daySocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, May 04, 2009

Who surfed my blog?

I subscribe to Google Analytics to get a few details of my blog. Who visited, when, from where, how did they arrive, all sort of such stuff. Most of the time, I am interested in looking at the range of cities from where people visit my blog.

Recently, I realised about the search engine feature in Analytics. The feature allows you to see what search terms were used to arrive at your blog. Many times, the search terms used surprise you, sometimes they baffle you. You begin to think "What, this combination of search terms puts my blog on the top few pages?" This is based on the assumption that an average surfer would not go beyond the third page of a search engine. Most of the people who use the search engine would have not even gone through the post completely. They do not contribute anything as readers. I mean, I don't expect comments from every reader, but then they do not go away with the satisfaction of having read something nice/good/interesting.

The largest number of hits that my blog (or posts in the blog) received were from a search term "orkut testimonials". Over the past eight months it continues to occupy the top slot for every month's statistic. Now, I know that none of these readers would have appreciated my post on orkut testimonials as most of them are looking for testimonials that they can use. But surprisingly, my blog received the cumulative maximum number of hits from queries related to orkut testimonials. Why would one google for testimonials? I don't understand. As I have said in my post on testimonials, it should indicate the depth of friendship. Not to be used to flatter friends.

Another term that generated a lot of hits and surprises me is "Raj Thackeray". I have only one post related to Raj Thackeray, but the hits contribute to nearly 14% of the month's hits. That most of the people searching for Raj Thackeray are not exactly his fans, such gang of readers do not read and give a thought to the post. Those who are his fans, read and get happy because of the content. But only a few actually try to realise the problem.

While we have our own thoughts about the way people will try to reach our blog, search engine statistics throw up a lot of surprises. When you go through that report, the world appears to be much more stranger than earlier.
Who surfed my blog?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Friday, May 01, 2009

Sardar's Pav Bhaji

How crazy could someone be about pav-bhaji? And that too about the pav-bhaji served in a particular restaurant? That's Sardar's pav-bhaji for you. This outlet serves of pav-bhaji (and varieties of it) and nothing else apart from juices and milk-shakes. Located in Tardeo, in front of Tardeo bus depot, this is the place for pav-bhaji fans. To get there, you need to get to Mumbai Central (if coming by train) or the Mumbai Central bus depot or Tardeo bus depot (if coming by bus). On the bridge over Mumbai Central station, when you face towarsd Churchgate, take a right and walk down the bridge. In the square, there is the Tardeo bus depot. Opposite this depot is Sardar's pav-bhaji.

Every pav-bhaji variety is garnished with Amul butter, hence every dish begins with the name "Amul XYZ Pav Bhaji". The outlet serves lip-smacking pav bhaji. In the evening, you can notice the cook making pav-bhaji in the adjacent room. The huge tawa is placed on the side bordering the entrance of the hotel. Hence, you can see all the preparations going on.

For those who are calorie-conscious, don't even try to enter this hotel. At the entrance itself, you'll get a heart attack. On the hugetawa, along with the bhaji, the cook adds dollops of Amul butter. At home we use a spoon or butter knife to scrape the butter. Butter the cooks here use large "karchi " to drop butter into the bhaji. Apart from that, he adds almost two table-spoons full of butter to the bhaji before serving it to you. Add to this, thepav (buns) which are also sauteed in butter.

But the taste is awesome. You are extremely full with one plate pav-bhaji. And also with the guilt of consuming tons of butter. But don't worry, you can always exercise a bit extra the next day to get rid of the accumulated fat.
Sardar's Pav BhajiSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend