Speech for MCC, WB - Strong Election Commission, Strong Democracy 20 November 2009

AT KOLKATA ON 20.11.2009

“It is truly the greatest show on Earth, and ode to a diverse and democratic ethos… an inspiration to all the world”, commented the New York Times, on the recently concluded General Elections 2009. The question is what makes India’s General Elections unique and special? Is it the size, the magnitude, the unfathomable diversity, the manifold complexities, the form or content or something of all these? Much has been said about the magnitude of the elections in India. For the sake of record, I will restate some of the mind boggling figures a little later. But, the bottom-line is that the significance of Indian Elections cannot be easily captured in such simplistic terms. It is not about size and volume alone, for even when India opened its electoral account through the first General Elections in 1951-52, India was even then the largest democracy in the world. It is perhaps more about the boldness of the democratic enterprise at a time when there was no shortage of skeptics who said that India’s experiment with democracy would not last. The initial skepticism has long since been laid to rest. With each passing election, India has confirmed its status as a democratic beacon, conducting its general elections to Parliament and to its State Assemblies periodically, and on time, indeed without fail. When the President of USA made a statement recently that “by successfully completing the largest exercise of popular voting in the world, the elections have strengthened India’s vibrant democracy and upheld the values of freedom and pluralism that make India an example for us all”, there was an obvious reference to the global relevance of Indian democracy and its democratic elections. If India has emerged in the world’s consciousness as a global model for a plural democracy, the standards of election management has to be truly international and that is what India has once again demonstrated to the world and to herself. Having said that let me come to some of the nuts and bolts of the 2009 Parliamentary election.

The Election Schedule

As the term of the 14th Lok Sabha (The House of the People in the Parliament or Lower House) was to expire in the normal course on 1st June, 2009, in terms of the constitutional provisions, a new Lok Sabha was required to be constituted before the 2nd June, 2009. Though the deadline for delivering elections was known, the exact schedule of election is always drawn up by the Election Commission of India independently, with no consultation whatsoever with the Executive, and after taking inputs on various aspects that the Commission believes to be relevant. This is to ensure a level playing field and deny any undue advantage to the party in power. Designing a schedule and phasing options for a countrywide election in India is in itself an intense management exercise. It involves taking into account the schedules of school examinations in various parts of the country to avoid holding elections during the examination periods. In a plural society every festival and associated holidays needed to be factored in; the harvest season in certain parts of the country was kept in mind and the weathermen needed to be consulted with reference to onset of the monsoons or snow in higher mountain reaches.

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