Record turnouts, especially among the young, have characterized the early polling in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, for the state assembly elections.
There are 403 seats at stake in this state of 200 million people. But for many decades, electoral violence marred assembly polls in this poor, caste-riven and sprawling region. Allegations of misconduct were rampant, and in many constituencies re-polling had to take place.
This year, in a striking break with the past, there have been no charges of electoral fraud or malfeasance. In considerable part, the peaceable process must be attributed to the workings of India’s independent Election Commission (EC). Until the 1990s the EC was mostly an inactive body. However, under the guidance of an energetic Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), T. N. Seshan, the organization acquired considerable clout. It attempted to, and largely succeeded in, rooting out rampant electoral misdeeds. Not surprisingly, it won accolades from significant segments of India’s citizenry.
Some critics questioned Seshan’s perceived grandstanding, but even they conceded that his efforts had largely benefited the electoral process. None of his successors have been quite as effable. However, they have upheld the same norms and principles that he had sought to instill. As a consequence, in a country in which much of the citizenry views public institutions with disdain, the EC is still seen as a bastion of fairness, probity and efficiency.
The rectitude and transparency of the EC has certainly helped it to effectively carry out its mission of holding free and fair elections. Additionally, the growth of technology has also aided this process. Throughout India, the same electronic voting machines (EVMs) are used and they are mostly tamper proof. The EC personnel has also made use of video cameras to record the proceedings around polling booths in potentially sensitive areas to ensure that party goons don’t foment discord and create havoc.
The insistence on robust norms of conduct bolstered with technological innovations has now given renewed meaning to the electoral process across the country. Despite the many shortcomings of India's democracy, its electoral practices are worthy of admiration and emulation.