Milan K Sinha
Finally the Election Commission of India (ECI) announced the nine – phase poll schedule for election to the 16th Lok Sabha and also for three state assemblies namely Sikkim, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha to be held during a long span of thirty six days between 7th April to 12th May,2014. The counting for the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies along with the three state assemblies will, however be taking place on a single day – 16th May, 2014.
As rightly asserted by the chief election commissioner V. S. Sampat while sharing the details of poll schedule, ‘Elections to the world’s largest democracy pose immense challenges with respect to logistics and man and material management…’, the ensuing election will see the participation of 814 million strong electorate- more than the population of Europe, by casting their vote in 9.3 lakh polling booths across the country to make it the biggest democratic exercise in the world. It is interesting to note here that in in the last Lok Sabha election of 2009 the number of electorate was 98 million less at 716 million and the polling stations was one lakh less at 8.3 lakh. One more defining change, to facilitate the contesting candidates and also to political parties, is the enhancement in prescribed expenditure limits. Only a few days back, as we know, the union cabinet approved an amendment to the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, and upwardly revised the limit for election expenditure by a candidate for parliamentary constituencies from Rs. 40 lakhs to Rs.70 lakh in all states except Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Sikkim, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Lakshadweep and Puducherry, where it was kept at Rs.54 lakh.
We are 66 year old independent country where the Election Commission was established in accordance with the Constitution on 25th January 1950 and where the first general election was held 61 years ago in 1952 with 61.20% voter turnout. But, it is extremely shocking to observe that the voter turnout in last Lok Sabha election of 2009 was only 58% – even 3% less than what it achieved in 1952. Ironically, the turnout percentage hovered between the highest of 61.97% and lowest of 56.97% in the seven general elections held during the period between 1989 to2009. That does mean besides many things that around 40% adult citizens have no say in electing a government supposed to rule them too for next couple of years in the name of inclusive politics based on equity and justice. Why it is so? Is it the real democracy our constitution talks about?
Reports say that the election commission took many initiatives which include its mega awareness programme of Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) — particularly in areas known for low turnouts to encourage voters to exercise their basic democratic right. All this would definitely help boost voting percentage in coming election besides factors like inclusion and participation of youths and women in sizable numbers across the country due to multiple socio-political factors. But to what extent?
On number scale even 5% to 10% increase in voter turnout might look like a very big achievement for ECI but it shouldn’t be allowed to be complacent on this score on such low percentage improvement. This issue, therefore calls for serious introspection and matching remedial action on the part of ECI during the intervening period as it has the bounden duty not only to ensure enrolment of all eligible citizens very genuinely- pruning the fake voters simultaneously from its rolls, on highest priority, but also to create such a congenial situation which prompts, if not compel, every voter to cast his or her vote (now NOTA option is also available on EVM) in a free and fair manner to register minimum voting turnout of 90% in next Lok Sabha elections and in each election thereafter to let our democracy function in true sense of the term.
Hope, the ECI, the central and all state governments together with all political parties make this happen by enlisting support and cooperation of civil society in an unprecedented manner to register its best ever performance in the next election exercise.
Time to Excel in Election Exercise
Milan K Sinha