My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.
- Dalai Lama
With the Election Commission (EC) announcing dates for the 17th Lok Sabha elections, camps of all political outfits have started buzzing. Amidst their carefully crafted strategies and populist manifestos lie the issues that will play a pivotal role in steering their ships to shore. It would be a long-drawn-out affair lasting well over a month — voting will take place in seven phases from April 11 to May 19. This is also the longest duration (39 days) since the country’s first polls in 1951-52 after Independence, which lasted four months, from October 25 to February 21. The big question that arises is why the election process should consume so much time when the country had in the past managed general elections in a much shorter time frame, that too using ballot papers. The EC has spread the elections across all phases in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar. The decision sounds logical in the case of UP, which has the most number of constituencies (80) for any state. In case of Bengal and Bihar, which have 42 and 40 Lok Sabha seats respectively, there is a need for justification. The ‘law and order situation’ and the ‘availability and movement of security forces’ are a few reasons cited (by EC), which certainly warrant elaboration. Does India not have sufficient manpower, including security personnel, to complete this democratic exercise in three or four phases?
There is no denying that holding a general election in one million polling stations with 10 million officials, for a 900-million-strong electorate is no cakewalk. Demands have been made from time to time for electoral reforms and the demand has grown more urgent with the passing of time. Evils money and money power are the real headache of the Commission. It is the need of the hour to overcome the evils like money power and muscle power from the elections. Money culture during election is a serious problem affecting the election process in the country. Despite the campaigns for clean election launched by various NGOs, the money still plays critical role in deciding fate of the candidates. A people’s movement is needed to wield the money power and muscle power from election and then only the EC will be able hold general election of shorter duration.
The EC this time has announced a series of fresh measures to strengthen the integrity of the electoral process and curb growing hazards such as the spread of falsehoods aimed at creating social polarisation for consolidation of votes. This time the candidates contesting will have to declare their criminal records through affidavits in newspapers and electronic media before filling nominations. This is a very good initiative and will help voters to make their choice. It will be interesting to see how the EC directive is implemented.