By K.N. Pandita
The ninth and the last phase of polling for the 16th Lok Sabha that begun on April 7 will come to grand finale in a couple of days. The world has not seen an election of such a large scale in which 814 million eligible voters were issued ballot papers. Spread over about six weeks, the electorate were to elect 543 members to the Lok Sabha. In comparison to 2009 parliamentary election, the 2014 election saw an increase of 100 million more voters which is equal to the population of the Philippines.
2.3 million voters are in the age group of 18 to 19 constituting 2.88 per cent of the total electorate against 0.75 per cent in 2009 election. Before formally announcing the time frame of six-week long election, the Chief Election Commission of India had very carefully considered the time for holding the election. Main considerations were that it should not coincide with the festival days, peak agricultural activity days or the examination time table in schools or the vacation interval in educational institutions.
In all 930,000 polling stations were set up which is 12 per cent more than in 2009 elections. A remarkable thing was that for the first time the choice was given to voters to push the button of not voting for anybody if they did not find any of the candidates suitable.
In all about ten million functionaries were deployed to conduct the polling across the country and half of this strength was of security personnel. In all about 40,0000 electronic voting machines were pressed into service. The Election Commission of India ensured that all eligible voters were given the opportunity of casting their vote.
It will be noted with interest that in the remotest village in Northern India, namely Chashul, pitched at a height of 15000 feet above sea level on the border with China in Ladakh, helicopter services were requisitioned to carry ballot papers and the polling staff to these height to obtain votes from about a dozen legible voters. Despite the fact that the population along the border with China and Pakistan is very remote and very inaccessible, the people there are more conscious of the value of their vote. This is an achievement of our democracy.
This is about the logistics of electioneering. All national mainstream parties are in the fray and campaigning and lobbying has been vigorous. Apart from national mainstream parties, there are a host of regional parties which have lately sprung up and become effective and influential with the masses of the people. They play very important role in the formation of government at the centre.
By and large, the era of absolute majority in the Indian Parliament is a past story. We should be mentally prepared for the era of coalition governments. So it is literally a magical game of numbers.
Emergence of regional parties is an important development in India’s democratic system. After having gone smoothly for three or four decades of the over-arching influence of national mainstream parties, people riveted to local issues and local leadership for easy accessibility and understanding of their problems.
Recognition of the rights of ethic, religious, cultural, linguistic groups, whether in minority or in majority, in a state has been the motivator for burgeoning of regional parties. Successful regional parties form governments in the states, but at national level there are alignments and permutations and combinations which, when put together, make Indian democracy very unique and pervasive.
The Indian voter has come of age and he or she demonstrates political wisdom by not confusing election of a legislator with that of a parliamentarian. It is an achievement of Indian democracy that a voter can clearly figure out where his local and regional interests lie and where his national interests have the priority.
Campaigning for the 16th Lok Sabha has now stopped. Looking in retrospect, two facets are more prominently in view. One is the intensity with which the electorate, the political parties, the media and the public domain have taken part in campaigning. Sheer vastness of these campaigns is something unforgettable. The other thing is the palpable response of the masses of people to the party campaigning. Every where in public places, restaurants, parks, society halls, clubs and in homes, there is free and forceful debate on issues, political parties and leaders. All this happens in an atmosphere of free expression.
There have been a few ugly situations no doubt. Some cases of violence have happened. It is nothing unusual. But the number of cases of violence has been small and is accounted on finger tips. In an election of the size and magnitude above described, a few cases of violence are to be neglected. One should give full credit to the Election Commission of India for having made such extensive and elaborate and meticulously perfect arrangements for the mega election in the country.
However, the 16th Lok Sabha election has throw up a dark side of the history of parliamentary elections. Never before in this history have we come across degradation of political campaigning to the level of bringing in slanderous charges against other contesting party or candidates, and instead of judging issues on their merit, opposition has been carried on something like personal vendetta. It was shame to go on washing dirty linen in public.
People will long remember that even the recognised political parties abandoned their main manifesto and pandered to personal attacks, insinuations and intimidation. Scurvy remarks and statements were issued that berated the level of the parties and personalities. After sixty four years of democratic dispensation, our leaders are expected to show more restraint, more dignity and more poise in conducting their campaigns. This was altogether wanting.
It is strange that groups and parties have ganged up to oppose another national level party not for national issues of great urgency like security, terrorism, economy, health etc. but for mundane issues of minimal significance. History tells us that the cry against the demon of communalism is usually raised by those who covertly foment it so that they may remain in the forefront. A national mainstream party adopting subtle communal proclivity does tremendous disservice to the nation.
This election also showed that there is a wave against concentration of power in dynastic circles and coteries as also against corruption and loot of public exchequer. The issue of depositing stolen money in foreign banks is also a hot topic that will be a challenge to the new government.
Lastly, we may have a word for the government that will take over power at the Raisini Hills after 16th May. The new government should forget all the shrill notes that were raised during the campaign. It has to govern according to the constitution of the country. Anger, vengeance, reprisals are the traits of uncivilized people. Governments are run by statesmanship, tolerance, farsightedness and equal treatment to all. There is divine bliss in forgiving and forgetting. Let us remember the words of a great democrat and humanist, history know, namely Abraham Lincoln uttered in his Gettysburg speech. We hope the new government will lay down new traditions that will become inseparable part of our great civilization.