It’s been three weeks that the present round of Assembly elections has started, but it will be another two weeks and counting that the country gets any closer to knowing the shape of things to come in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur. Even as these states endure a 35-day “gestation”, Maharashtra votes in its local body polls, gets its results inside two days and will most probably have fully-functioning municipalities by 11 March, when the Assembly election results are declared. The Maharashtra civic polls demonstrate the way it should be in an electorally robust democracy such as India; indeed, the way it is in mature democracies around the world. This tedious wait for 11 March is not only unfair to the voters who have cast their ballot towards the beginning of the elections, but also detrimental for governance as the states concerned undergo a period of forced “abstinence”, courtesy the Election Commission’s model code of conduct.
The Election Commission of India has been hailed as amongst the best in the world for the precision with which it conducts elections, although it needs attention to the rapidity with which it declares the results on the day of counting. But the EC has made stretching the elections in the so-called problematic states into an art form. Be it West Bengal, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir or Uttar Pradesh, voting there takes ages to complete. Admittedly, these states have a history of poll-related violence and voter intimidation and heavy security presence is the only way to ensure that voting day passes of peacefully—not that it always does, with West Bengal being a case in point. It is the job of the EC to ensure that governments, both state and Centre, provide an adequate number of personnel so that there is enough security presence in every phase of voting, with the need to rotate personnel minimised to the utmost. And it is the duty of the respective governments to organise the number of personnel required. An election, even if it has to be conducted over seven phases, should not stretch beyond a week. The ideal scenario is to conduct the voting on a single day. Even big states such as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat and Rajasthan have single-day voting. So it is not that humongous a task. The inability to fast-track “troublesome” elections is, in a way, an admission of administrative failure, for which both the states and the Centre should take the blame along with the EC.
Ironically, a long-drawn-out election need not always make the process fool-proof. Unnecessary rumours and speculation dominate such periods, even as political parties and others try to influence or manipulate voting patterns in different regions, through various means.
An election is supposed to give vent to public disapprobation or appreciation at a particular point of time, quickly. By introducing a high degree of delay into the electoral process, the EC may be doing disservice to voters. The people want quick results and that is what they should get. They cannot be asked to stay in a state of limbo just because the EC and the administrative set-up in general are unable or unwilling to deliver results with the speed seen in mature democracies.