It has been a fairly smooth ride so far with the fifth phase of polling covering the largest number of 121 parliamentary constituencies across 12 States on a single day to elect new members to the 16th Lok Sabha witnessing a heavy voter turnout on Thursday. And, taken along with the 111 parliamentary constituencies where polling was held in the first four phases between April 7 and April 12, the fate of the contesting parties and candidates in the 2014 Lok Sabha election has been sealed in 232 seats so far. Barring a serious landmine explosion by Maoists in Chhattisgarh last week aimed at disrupting the election process, in which five polling officials and two drivers were reportedly killed; some sporadic incidents of violence subsequently reported from some of the Naxalite-hit States including Jharkhand and Bihar besides Uttar Pradesh; two cases of booth-capturing in Madhya Pradesh and miscreants damaging an electronic voting machine in Cuttack in Odisha, the Election Commission has reason to cheer over the conduct of this massive exercise, by and large peacefully and fairly, so far.
As the election rhetoric reached a new crescendo in recent weeks, the deftness with which the EC has handled instances of hate speech by three noted personalities from major political parties — Amit Shah of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Azam Khan of the Samajwadi Party and Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma of the Congress — has sent out a strong signal that the Commission means business when it comes to ending abusive or derogatory language that could polarise voters on religious or linguistic lines. Seeking to impose a sanction beyond mere admonition, the EC banned rallies planned by both Mr. Shah and Mr. Khan, while Mr. Verma was warned not to repeat intemperate language that violated the Model Code of Conduct. The EC was also pragmatic enough to modify its order on Mr. Shah and allow him to hold rallies, after he gave an undertaking to play by the rules of the game. Such a review may not happen in Mr. Khan’s case. The EC’s review in Mr. Shah’s case was based on the rationale that even seriously erring players should be given a ‘second chance’ to behave, amid intensified video-tracking of campaigning. But perhaps where the EC still feels largely helpless is the continuing play of money power in the electoral process, if the reported seizures of Rs.260 crore of cash and gold valued at Rs.15 crore — possibly representing a minuscule fraction of the money being deployed — across India so far is anything to go by. Andhra Pradesh, where the stakes are very high as a new Telangana state waits to be born, has accounted for a good chunk of the seizures. Despite the satisfactory process so far, there can be no let-up in the vigil, and the EC can breathe easy only on May 16.
Keywords: Lok Sabha polls, Lok Sabha elections 2014, Congress, BJP, Election Commission, electoral process, Amit Shah, Azam Khan, Telangana, Model Code of Conduct, cash seizure, election boycott, Maoists