- Posted March 30, 2014 by
INDIA’S FESTIVAL OF DEMOCRACY – PART II
In April and May 2014 India will once again go to the polls in what is now considered the largest election exercise anywhere in the world. India has been holding successful elections from 1950 onwards both at the Central and State government levels, so much so that the country is always on election mode, as it follows the Westminster model, and assemblies are elected for 5 years, so routinely some state among the 29 is in election mode, having completed their 5 year tenures. The mother of all elections in India is for the Central government which will be decided by 815 million registered voters out of which 110 million are first time voters. Elections have become a new religion in India, it has become part of the DNA of the people, since it personifies democracy and freedom to choose though democracy and freedom is a very ancient Indian concept, probably 5000 years old, where the Kings duty was to serve the people in a righteous way, the people’s interests and concerns preceded that of the Kings or their immediate family. No wonder Gautama Buddha forsake royal life because he felt there was too much suffering outside the palace gates of his own father though it was very common for royalty in ancient India to give up the royal trappings to embark on a path of self realisation. However, the present day Indian politician is comfortable with being tagged as the ruler as it bestows special privileges but this again is changing with the churning that is taking place in the political space largely aided by a marauding 24x7 media and unfettered social media driven mainly by the youthful population. Elections are extremely noisy and for outsiders rather chaotic though if one looks closely there is order in this chaos and Indians appear to revel in chaos. Some criticize that the Election Commission, which conducts the elections, has made it progressively very colourless with very strict rules during campaigning, but nevertheless it generates a lot of enthusiasm among the people with some very colourful personalities strutting around on the political stage. Elections are held in phases generally over a few weeks, considering that poll personnel have to be moved around this vast country and security issues have to be addressed since a 60 to 70 % voter turnout would mean nearly 450 to 500 million turning out to vote and many in very remote places often with very difficult terrain. The Election Commission with the support of the governments makes it its mission to reach the polling booth to the voter rather than the voter trudging great distances to the polling booths, essentially making it voter friendly and ensuring a more than average turnout. The recently concluded state elections in four states had voter turnouts ranging from 65 to 85 %, in some parts going upto 90 %, affirming the ordinary citizens’ faith in democracy despite the naysayers doubts about corruption issues and poor governance crowding out the citizens belief in democracy.
Just as democracy is a celebration of a citizens’ rights and freedom but in what is uniquely Indian it also leads to healthy and unhealthy competition with political parties of diverse hues and ideologies ranging from the left to the centre right occupying the political stage and trying to woo the voters. Though this is part of an evolutionary process of Indian democracy but this competitive spirit is often cited for the policy confusion that this country is routinely accused of on the international stage. For political parties anywhere in the world elections is after all about winning elections and forming a government or at least being part of the power structure, so that the longevity and durability of the party is established since the effects of power rubs off on the party. In such a situation and with the number of parties vying for the pie, a half a dozen national parties and forty regional parties, the market place in this scenario gets awfully crowded just like the bazaars of the country reflecting its huge population numbers. The multiplicity of parties is largely due to the failure of established political parties to address citizens concerns and as a reaction the emergence of new political outfits who mostly are in their initial days of formation are identified with a section of the people cobbled together on caste or regional lines. In fact many believe that elections, that are held so very regularly at a 3 tier level, are a miracle unfolding repeatedly in a country as diverse as India and with poverty levels as staggering to subsume numbers in sub Saharan Africa. Despite this, this great Indian festival, at times resembles a circus, continues to confound the staunchest critics on the sheer fairness of its conduct in a country where political parties generally are known to break/bend all rules but refrain to avoid the voters ire at the turnstiles. Electronic voting machines (evm) have replaced the ballot paper more than a decade ago and again despite the doubting thomases’ no party challenges the results because no one doubts the fairness of the exercise. India has travelled a great distance from the era of 1960s and 70s when poll rigging by stuffing ballot boxes by ruling parties was common hearsay, despite that incumbent parties would loose elections, to present day indigenously developed evm making it possible to know the results within a few hours of the commencement of counting.