Even as we wait endlessly for the results of the Bihar Assembly elections, Barack Obama gets a swift hammering in the US mid-term elections, where votes were cast, counted and the President’s fate sealed in less than 24 hours. Bihar presents a stark contrast: The first votes were cast on 21 October; the last votes will be cast on 20 November, and the results declared on 24 November. If elections are a carnival, a celebration of Indian democracy, this unending wait can dull the spirit of even this most robust process.
The Election Commission has made it a practice to stretch to a month any election that is perceived to be even slightly “troublesome”. Bihar with its 243 seats has been voting in six phases over a month; but “trouble free” Andhra Pradesh with its 294 Assembly seats voted just twice inside seven days in 2009. The Lok Sabha elections in Bihar last year were divided into four phases, as were the 2005 Assembly elections that continued for a month in October-November. The general elections of 2009, of course, took the game set and voting machine. A gargantuan process, it stretched across what seemed like eons.
Something about such schedules reeks of paranoia, a latent admission of administrative and organisational failure, of the inability to conduct safe and secure elections inside a day, or maximum two, and announce the results within the next 24 hours. That is how mature democracies conduct their elections and that is the most desirable way of conducting them.
Indian reality may be vastly different, but while allowing the nation to develop its own brand of voting, the Election Commission, in typical Indian fashion, is letting the whole system stand on its head.
Elections are supposed to give quick releases to public anger or approval, and since it is the people who are the masters of their rulers, it is they who should be given quick relief, in this case, results. Moreover, by letting the electoral process stretch for weeks, the door is being kept open for changes in voting patterns, trends, and even malpractices.
There is no doubt that the poll process in Bihar this time has been largely violence free; if heavy militarisation is the only way to uphold democracy, so be it. But the end of securing the elections should not be lost in the Centre-State tussle for paramilitary personnel. Bihar asked the Centre for 60,000 paramilitary personnel, got 45,000. This number includes the six companies of Tripura State Rifles (TSR) personnel who were part of the humungous security arrangements for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. If 600 soldiers did a good job of protecting certain Games venues in a pint-sized area, surely they will do a good job of protecting three Bihar districts bordering Uttar Pradesh. Or so went the thinking. That this nation is forced to endure such long elections has nothing to do with the logistics involved, but everything to do with skewed priorities and bad planning.