May 13 marked the conclusion of India’s five-phase Parliamentary election, spread over a month, involving 714 million eligible voters, 4.7 million polling staff and 2.1 million security personnel. The naxalite violence in the first three phases, the hate speeches and violations of the Model Code of Conduct right through the campaign period, and allegations of electoral malpractice across the country, including distribution of money and intimidation of voters, will have to be seen in the broader context of what is the largest democratic and election management exercise in the world. The Election Commission of India and all the players can justifiably take pride in the fact that the 15th general election to the Lok Sabha was, under the circumstances, mostly peaceful, and largely free and fair. Especially in comparison to past elections, the current election looked better organised and cleaner. Without doubt, the use of photo electoral rolls covering about 82 per cent of the electorate across the country — only Assam, Nagaland and Jammu and Kashmir remain fully left out — helped in reducing complaints of bogus voting and personation. The heightened security, and close monitoring by the Election Commission, which employed 74,729 videographers and 40,599 digital cameras, also brought down the number of incidents of electoral malpractice. This general election was also the first to be held after the delimitation of constituencies in 2008, and the challenges to election management that came in its wake were met with minimal inconvenience to voters.
However, there is still a case for a shorter election process. While the counting process is now quickened with the introduction of Electronic Voting Machines, the multi-phase polling process virtually brings the government to a standstill for close to three months. The election itself is held within the space of a month, but from the time the election is announced, which is when the Model Code of Conduct kicks in, to the time the new Lok Sabha is constituted, it is about three months. No major policy decision can be taken, and welfare schemes and development works are suspended till after the new government takes office. The shorter the period of a lame-duck government, the better it is for governance. True, security considerations, geographical conditions and manpower requirements necessitate the staggering of the election. But the Election Commission in recent years has been quick to make good use of technology and devise efficient ways of human resources management. Even under the existing constraints, a shorter election process will be within the realms of possibility and in the interest of all.