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Mainstream, VOL LII No 11, March 8, 2014

EC Unfolds Poll Process

Tuesday 11 March 2014, by SC



The Election Commission unfolded on March 5 the process of holding the 16th Lok Sabha poll in the country. It will take place for the first time in nine phases—from April 7 to May 12; the counting of votes will be on May 16 and the results will come out on the same day.

As former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi notes in The Indian Express,

India is all set to witness the biggest-ever election. With 81 crore voters and 11 million personnel conducting the polls at 9.36 lakh polling stations using 1.4 million EVMs, the Indian election is considered the biggest such event in the world.

Polling in most of the constituencies in the four Maoist-infested States of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa will be held on three days—April 10, April 17 and April 24. In two States, UP and Bihar, the electorate will vote on six days whereas in the other two States of West Bengal and J&K—that are considered trouble-torn—polling will be spread out for five days.

The Election Commission has an onerous task at hand. In the previous elections it had discharged its duties with distinction. The holding of peaceful elections in as diverse and as complex a country as India is no mean achievement. But this time with the spectre of the communal riots in UP’s Muzaffarnagar fresh in the public mind and the emergence of a majoritarian leader like Gujarat CM Narendra Modi on the national horizon, the EC cannot take any chances—the danger of largescale violence being potent, it is a matter of deep concern for our parliamentary democracy. [The incident in front of the BJP office in the Capital yesterday—wherein a peaceful demonstration by APP activists protesting against the assault on AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal in Gujarat—was attacked by BJP workers from inside the party headquarters (even though the corporate-driven media has predictably sung a different tune) could well be a grim pointer of things to come.] Only through effective and active public intervention, crafted and conducted by all secular democrats, can such a distinct possibility be warded off. But the question is whether such an intervention will at all be possible.

As the Congress wilts under pressure and the Modi-led BJP registers striking advance across the country and not just in north India, the prospects of a majoritarian takeover of India appear brighter then ever before now that the parliamentary Left and its allies, like the Samajwadi Party, have become thoroughly discredited in the public eye, Bihar CM Nithish Kumar of the JD(U) being the sole exception in this regard. In this dismal scenario the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is the only silver-lining as dark clouds of uncertainty hover over the national political landscape. The decision of Rajmohan Gandhi, the septuagenarian grandson of the Father of the Nation, to join this new political outfit to contest the elections from East Delhi has doubtless given a shot-in-the-arm to the AAP and its leadership. Even where the AAP has yet to make its presence felt, as in Kolkata, there is a surge in the people’s expectations from the party as was witnessed during a public debate organised by a media house there. The BJP is actually wary of the extent to which the AAP can throw a spanner in its design to seize the citadel of power at         the Centre, but viewing objectively that is a highly positive development regardless of how the status quoists across the political spectrum analyse the situation on this score. Yet one has to also concede that the AAP being a recent phenomenon it cannot possibly hope to make a nationwide impact in these elections. As a prominent AAP leader explained a few days ago, “we are not concentrating on the 2014 poll, we are interested in the coming one in 2015 or 2016”. Implicit in that statement was the prognosis of an element of instability gripping New Delhi following the elections this year.

In any case we are in for many surprises in the days ahead. As one commentator has aptly pointed out, the “big picture of the general elections isn’t quite in sight yet” even if its contours are visible by now. One hopes that the people of this country will eventually assert themselves, as they have in previous elections, with all the sagacity that the challenges posed by the current political scene demand and help India to tide over the multifaceted crisis staring us in the face.

The EC’s electoral process, one is convinced, will facilitate the electorate to deliver its well-thought-out mandate that is expected to go a long way towards consolidating, reinforcing and sustaining the principal asset in our possession: parliamentary democracy with its constitutional safeguards relying on our multireligious and multiethnic secular values. It is this asset of ours that, with all its frailties, continues to shine as a conspicuous example of achievement in the developing world.

March 6

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