Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Great Indian Festival of Democracy

Among the many features of India that the nation and its people can be truly proud of is how deep-rooted democracy is. 

The nation won Independence from the UK in August 1947. (India was referred to as the Jewel in the British Crown.) Ever since that, the nation has regularly held elections to the national parliament, and to the Assemblies of each State. 

The First General Election was held in 1951. Now, the 17th one will be held from April 11 in seven phases.

Elections are an inalienable part of democracy and every single time an election is held in India, the results have been accepted graciously and magnanimously by the losers. Of course, there have been many occasions when losers have contested the result, but that is by going to the court. The court's decisions are respected and accepted by all without any reservation.

THE ONLY BLEMISH

The only setback in India's democratic journey was in 1975 when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi used a provision in Constitution to declare Emergency, resulting in the suspension of many democratic rights of citizens. It was not only widely considered as an unjustified move but it had led to large-scale misuse of various provisions to target political opponents.

Ironically, it was her belief in the strength of India's democracy that led her to lift the Emergency, which lasted 21 months. In the elections that followed, she and her party, the Congress, was routed massively, once again demonstrating how deep-rooted democracy is in the country.

India has had many occasions of horrible political instability. But it has always got sorted out in the way it should be, and governments formed.

17TH EDITION OF GENERAL ELECTION

The elections in India must be one of the very few in the world where the whole process is electronic. Voting machines were first used in 1982 in the North Paravoor constituency of Kerala Assembly. But the use of EVMs was struck down by the court as the machines had been used without creating a legal provision for it. It was then properly introduced in a select manner from 1999 in state assembly elections. The first time a Lok Sabha election was held using only EVMs was in 2004.

The elections will be held in seven phases on April 11, 18, 23, 29, May 6, 12, 19. 

One reason elections are staggered over many days is because of the large number of voters (900 million), spread across the vast area of the country (3.287 million sq km). It is a great logistic challenge: a large number of polling officials, electronic voting machines, security forces etc.

The previous election in 2014 was the longest ever, it was held over nine days between April 7 and May 12.

THE CONTEST

All the talk in India is whether Narendra Modi and the National Democratic Alliance will retain power. The situation is not the same as in 2014. Then, Modi was a new player on the national political scene, who came in with some fresh ideas to counter the then ruling party Congress which was very unpopular due to a string of corruption allegations. 

Today, Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi are trying hard to regain the lost ground. Some, who voted against them in 2014, might be inclined to give them a chance this time. But though Modi and his government might not have done anything spectacular to assure itself of an assured big win like in 2014, the fact that they haven't done too badly to be voted out will be a great challenge for the Congress and allies.

Election season in India resembles a festival, in the sense of the excitement it causes among people. Right now different parties are finalising their candidates for different constituencies. Soon electioneering will get into full throttle, with public meetings in every nook and corner of the country. Colourful posters, banners and flags, loud music and songs, entertaining street theatre ... the nation will soon be gripped by the intense battle of the ballot.

8 comments:

  1. Hi, Pradeep - Thank you for this very interesting read. This is a very thought-provoking post.

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  2. Indians can be proud of how deep-rooted democracy is in India. (Tongue-in-cheek remark: People in Tamil Nadu are very happy with elections. They want elections many more times because they make them rich.)

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    1. O yes. Tamil Nadu state is notorious for the freebies.

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  3. We're always grateful for the elections to be over as the TV is innundated with so many political ads. Do you get as many ads?

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    1. No Liz. There are very few political ads on television. Hardly we get to see any.
      What we do have is on all the news TV channels there are plenty of discussion programmes, under different names, in which political party spokespersons take part. They are very vociferous, often raucous, debates.
      In print, however, we do get to see ads by different political parties.
      Earlier, there was a practice of each national party being allowed to make a presentation on All India Radio (the national broadcaster), each party getting 15 minutes each, twice. That practice has stopped.

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  4. I am not that sure if democracy is the best system as it inevitably leads to large-scale corruption, but it has at least helped maintain more peace than those warring kingdom days.

    Destination Infinity

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    1. Our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said around the time we got Independence something to the effect that an imperfect democracy is far better that a perfect autocracy.
      But I do agree to an extent. Democracy well only if the people are mature enough for it, because people elect one among them to rule. All democracies get a ruler they deserve!

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