DC Edit | Make LS polls freer, fairer; also try to make it shorter

From Kuttanad to Tashigang, from Ladakh to Jodhpur, India's diverse democracy embraces its people in a 44-day electoral extravaganza

The curtain is officially up on a 44-day-long festival of democracy that has visited India after five years. In the biggest democratic exercise in the world, around 97 crore Indians will elect 543 members to the Lower House of Parliament with a mandate to run the country for the next five years.

The general election is a reflection of the idea called India. From the below-sea-level booths in Kuttanad in Kerala to the world’s highest polling booth at Himachal Pradesh’s Tashigang, from the sub-zero temperatures of Ladakh to the scorching heat at Jodhpur, from bustling metros to serene tribal villages in forest interiors, from teenagers to centenarians, avid democrats to violent doomsayers, they open India to a 360-degree view of what it is to be the most diverse nation of the world.

Elections have changed dramatically in the past few decades. The exercise has become a lot fairer with the introduction of voter identity cards and the deployment of adequate security forces. Counting has become an easier and faster affair with electronic voting machines, though there are doubts expressed by people genuinely concerned about their bona fides. The gradual increase in the share of machines with a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) system, now covering every machine, has helped alleviate some of these worries. At present, the VVPAT counterfoils from five machines in each Assembly segment of a Lok Sabha constituency are randomly selected and verified with the numbers those EVMs provided. The Election Commission must consider the popular demand for increasing this share. It may delay the results a bit but is worth the wait given the stakes involved.

The EC has listed four challenges to the conduct of fair polls: money, muscle power, misinformation and violations of the model code of conduct (MCC). It will be only doing its job if it cracks down on the perpetrators in an even-handed fashion. The EC must bear in mind the charges raised against itself about being harsh towards the Opposition parties but soft on the ruling party.

With the MCC in force to be lifted only after the counting, governance will come to a standstill for the next two-and-a-half months. While it is essential in order that the election is a fair one, the length of the period is a luxury that India can ill-afford. The EC considers seven phases to be necessary in order to ensure the deployment of Central paramilitary forces in all constituencies and in sufficient numbers. But it is time it considers optimising all the forces available so that the number of phases is less.

The EC’s decision not to hold the Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir is unfortunate as it denies the people of the Union territory their right to have a popular government. For a Union government that bats for “one-nation one-election”, its excuse of not being able to provide adequate security personnel to cover Assembly polls in a Union territory, albeit with extraordinary security concerns, is untenable. If one might paraphrase what former US President John F. Kennedy once said, the rights of every Indian are threatened when the rights of a citizen of Jammu and Kashmir are diminished. To ensure that the right of every Indian to elect their government is respected is the responsibility of the Election Commission.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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