Elections are the backbone of any democracy. All political institutions are directly or indirectly derived from elections. In that way to say that elections are tools to further democratic momentum in a country is not an exaggeration. In India, democratic roots will get further deepened with the country going to polls in the coming two months for electing the 17th Lok Sabha, the Lower House of Indian Parliament, which in turn will install the next government.
Significantly, it will be the largest ever democratic exercise in the world, where 900 million eligible voters, including 15 million first time electors will be using their voting right to elect 543 members of the Lok Sabha. Assembly polls for Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh would be taking place simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls. The task of completing the electoral exercise in smooth, free and fair manner is a huge challenge. But the country is committed to uphold the value and spirit enshrined in its Constitution.
What is special about India’s elections is that they are conducted electronically through voting machines. In fact, twenty years ago, India set the benchmark for democracies around the world when it introduced portable electronic voting machine to make polling process effective and verifiable. With this, chances of ballot stuffing, booth rigging have been completely done away with. The credit for cleansing of the electoral system in the country goes to T N Seshan, India’s 10th Chief Election Commissioner. A Ramon Magsaysay Award winner, Mr. Seshan stamped his authority by conducting transparent and effective polls from 1991 to 1996.
He was instrumental behind the strict implementation of election code of conduct, issuance of Voter Identity Cards for all registered voters, limit on candidates’ expenditure etc. He was totally against electoral malpractices. Bribing or intimidating voters, distributing liquor during elections, using official machinery for campaigning or using places of worship for campaigns were stopped. Use of loudspeakers and high volume music without prior written permission was also made tough during elections.
Seshan’s successors further improvised the electoral system in order to rid any chances of malpractices during the polls. Dr. M S Gill introduced the electronic voting machines to curb any kind of cheating in the polls. He was equally a visionary and hardworking Chief Election Commissioner like his illustrious predecessor T N Seshan. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan for his achievements as a successful Chief Election Commissioner. In fact, since the 1990s, India has only seen its electoral system getting stronger and more robust day by day. To remove any doubt from the minds of political parties and people at large on the Election Commission’s claim of sturdiness of Electronic Voting Machine against any kind of malpractices, an open ‘hackathon’ was organized in June 2017. In front of the media and the world, credentials of EVMs as tamper-proof machines were established. First time Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), an independent verification system for voting machines designed to allow voters to verify that their vote was cast correctly was used in assembly elections in Goa last year. Since then use of VVPATs in every election has become a norm in the country.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, over one million VVPATs will be used across polling stations. More than 10 million polling staff will be deployed to make sure that elections are held on schedule and in transparent manner. On top of all that, thousands of polling parties will be walking for 2-3 days to inaccessible areas of the country in order to ensure no voter is left behind. Indeed, the Election Commission has also shown that it cares for the “differently abled” voters. Special arrangements have been made to ensure that differently abled people use their rights comfortably during the forthcoming polls. Needless to say, elections remain the true festival of democracy, and can be a success only when all registered voters participate in the polls.
Script: Shankar Kumar, Senior Journalist