With Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora’s announcement of the poll schedule for the constitution of the 17th Lok Sabha on Sunday, the poll exercise catering to 900 million voters — as against 814.5 million at the time of the last Parliament poll in 2014 — has got underway. On the face of it, the planning seems well-conceived on the whole. The test, of course, would lie in the execution.
For example, as a step toward citizen empowerment, the CEC announced ways in which ordinary voters can approach the Election Commission if they observe irregularities. Their identity is to be protected. If the measure is executed well, it will go a long way in giving voters a greater stake in the poll process. Mr Arora failed to give the assurance that the VVPATs (the paper trails) for the ballots vote cast through EVMs will be counted. He said the issue was before the Supreme Court. Even so, it would not have been deemed improper if the CEC had spoken of the poll body's readiness to count every VVPAT if need be in order to underline transparency. The EC would do well to prepare itself to count all VVPATs if circumstances require it. For democracy, there can be no greater step in the direction of voter assurance.
There is also the important issue of voter enrolment. While announcing poll dates, Mr Arora rightly noted that an election is as credible as the voters’ list. In a country like ours, many genuine voters find their names excluded from this compendium for reasons ranging from clerical errors to mischief. So in the interest of fair play, anyone who can produce an authentic ID should be permitted to vote.
The CEC announced poll dates for the four state Assemblies of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Odisha as well as dates for Assembly by-elections in several states. It is egregious that the EC should have failed the people of Jammu and Kashmir by not announcing dates for Assembly election in that state. As senior political leader Farooq Abdullah, a former Chief Minister of the state, has observed in anguish, this will give the signal that India has bowed to terrorist elements. In the context of the difficult security situation in Kashmir, the CEC spoke of “recent events” — presumably a reference to the Pulwama attack. When the Lok Sabha polls are being held in the valley, the state election could also have been dovetailed with it, as security will be on high alert in any case. It is to be hoped that Assembly polls can be held there before mid-June when President's rule is due to end....