Indian elections with 900 million voters, 11 million poll workers , 4 million EVM’s, 1 million polling booths is the herculean task that distinguishes world’s largest democracy from the rest .Even with this statistics elections alone are not the lone criterion to establish and sustain an ideal democratic country .So, what does an ideal democracy need besides the conduct of elections? The progress of democracy and its success is only feasible through debates, discussions, negotiations and mental accomodation of diversity and not through elections alone. However, the basis of establishment of democracy can only be achieved through democratic elections. India being the world’s largest democracy faces challenges on many fronts.
For instance, the Model Code of Conduct which is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission to regulate political parties and candidates to ensure free and fair elections in keeping with Article 324 of the constitutions yet the lack of statutory backing restricts and limit the scope of Election Commission from taking stern actions when violations follow.Currently, though the Election Commission announced the model code of conduct for political campaigners and candidates, yet it does not have any statutory backing nor is MCC legally enforceable which is just the tip of the iceberg. The bunch of challenges that are a hurdle to the conduct of free and fair elections are rampant corruption, violence, bribery, cash for vote scams, proxy voting, voting malpractices, to name a few.
Firstly, there is a pertinent need to strengthen the Election Commission. The Election Commission of India has indeed taken steps to curb poll booth malpractices by initiating measures like allotting identity cards without party symbols to party workers stationed at booth, keeping a strict vigil of bank transactions and cash movement and transactions, issuing voters pass with photographs to address proxy voting and deployment of security forces to control violence or disturbance caused to affect polling. However, there are still number of issues that are still yet to be fully neutralize and master the smooth conduct of elections.
Furthermore, the EC must also be kept independent and sovereign in matters of conduct of elections keeping in sync with Article 324. The EC must have power to deregister a party or candidate and for such an action a due justified process must be drafted and approved to empower the Election Commission of India.Besides, the expenditure capping, its due compliance by parties and candidates must be thoroughly checked and should be made transparent to public. Election campaign expenditure is a rigorously debated issue across the democratic countries of the world. Political funding and the cash push into elections is a global issue as well as in the Indian context.The recently introduced capping of donations per individual at Rs. 2,000/- seems to be a positive reform. However, the issue of introduction of electoral bonds remains a debateable solution.
Electoral bonds were introduced as an alternative to cash donations made to political parties. These bonds remain valid for 15 days for encashment by an eligible political party through an account with the authorised bank. Electoral bonds may be issued to a citizen or corporate. Though the purpose of introducing Electoral bonds was to bring more transparency in political funding yet the Election Commission has itself suggested that this may rather wreck transparency because it opens the doors for pumping black money through shell companies and allow unchecked foreign funding of political parties in India leading to influence of foreign companies on Indian politics. Since it allows anonymous donations if donations are less than Rs.20,000 ,thus facilitates circumventing of checks and balances.
Moreover, the conduct of elections though the biggest exercise of democracy yet is technologically poorly structured. Though EVM’s have replaced ballot papers yet the most common challenges of poll booth are yet unaddressed. Example – the polling booths do not have CCTV cameras to record violence or malpractices at booth. Poorly printed vote pass used in 2019 general elections facilitated proxy voting and dubious voting. Also, there is usually no inspection of ink on hands prior to inking, which would otherwise have been a second stage of check in case dubious voters managed to evade security personnel at entry. These reforms at the grassroot level may ensure vigilance and scrutiny of voters at polling booth.
Beyond the polling booths and elections schedule, there is a strong need to develop leaders belonging to marginalised sections of the society like farmers women and minorities to lead national and state governments .As a matter of fact ,Indira Gandhi was the only woman prime minister of India, Assam was the first state to have a Muslim woman chief minister and the only one Assam ever had .Nagaland never had a female chief minister .Furthermore, India never had a Muslim or Christian Prime Minister of India. However, after K.R.Narayanan, Mr.Kovind is the second Dalit to become President of India whereas Mrs Pratibha Patil is the only woman President India ever had .Despite the sorry state of leadership of woman in Indian polity, it is thrilling enough that India had two female defence ministers one of whom is currently holding the office. For a diverse country like India it is a magnificent challenge to have political representatives from all ethnicities or communities however an active engagement and representation is the only way to keep the democracy thriving and alive.
For the democracy of India to thrive, the conduct of elections is crucial and for fair elections the following suggestions may be proposed .Firstly, the widening of scope of power and authority of the Election Commission of India with statutory backing is critical to ensure fair elections.Secondly, the elimination of all voting malpractices by efficient administrationis the need of the hour. Thirdly, bringing about more transparency and accountability in political funding of parties or candidates through electoral reforms is inevitable. Lastly, engaging and creating a more inclusive political representation can ensure progress of the unique democracy that India is .The conduct of elections in a free and fair manner necessarily will truly realise the ideals of democracy.