The World’s Biggest Party

May 16, 2014: the big day has come. The day for the results of the world’s biggest party, the largest mobilization of people in the world. The 2014 General Elections in India.

It’s Not Child’s Play

India as a country is the world’s largest democracy. Being a democracy, the government is run by the representatives of the people. 

Due to that reason, elections need to held in every nook and corner of this huge country. It is seriously not child’s play!

For a sense of scale of the nationwide General Elections, consider this.

There are currently 29 states in India. Each state is divided into about 20 districts. Each district is further divided into around another 23 constituencies. There are around 25 polling booths in each constituency!

That’s the scale of a General Election in India. The authority on elections in India is the Election Commission, established and protected by the Constitution. 

From the day the election dates are announced, till when the results are announced, the EC has the final say on all actions of the government, and that of politicians and parties.  

During this period of time, the Legislature is closed down. The EC monitors all the campaigns and ongoings of the government, political parties, and candidates. A Model Code of Conduct is issued, and the government and politicians have to abide by it. 

Two excerpts:

  • Politicians cannot personally target people, or other politicians.
  • Politicians also cannot use public infrastructure for their election campaigning.

If the MCC is violated, the EC has constitutional authority to post a show-cause notice to the violator.  Accordingly, it can take action.

Complaints can be adressed to the EC. Accordingly, it issues an order to the competent authority in response to the complaint, to take specific action.

For example, a biased police officer has to be transferred by the government if the EC orders it to do so. If not, then it’s straight EC vs. the government in court.

In one word, the EC has the final say on all actions of the executive and political parties, during the election time.

The Legislature

India’s Legislature is divided into two houses:

  • The Lok Sabha, or the House of the People, is the lower House. It consists of the representatives of different states, elected directly by the people during the General Elections. All members have a term of five years, after which elections take place.
  • The Rajya Sabha, or the Council of States, is the upper House. Its members are not elected by the people. Instead, the members of the Lok Sabha elect the members of the Rajya Sabha, from amongst themselves. Members can also be appointed by the President of India. Membership is permanent. When any member retires, new ones are inducted by the President, or elected by the Lok Sabha from itself.

The numbers of seats granted to each state is proportional to its population. For example, a state may have 14 seats in the Lok Sabha. 

Willing political parties are asked to field candidates of their choice for each seat in a state. For example, if 6 parties are willing to contest, each seat will have 6 contestants, one from each party. 

The EC has made rules for transparency. All candidates will have to reveal their assets and immovable property at the time of filing their nominations with the EC. And also any criminal cases against them, if any. 

There are many websites available in India, where these details can be publicly accessed, and all other details about the candidates too.

Each seat is actually representative of a parliamentary constituency. So, if a state has 14 seats, each of the seats will be filled by the candidate who wins the elections in each respective constituency. These winning candidates would then go on to represent the state in the Lok Sabha.

Certain backward classes in India are classified into groups, such as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes. A particular number of seats are reserved for them. Some seats are also reserved for women. 

So, a political party has to put up respective contenders for these reserved seats.

The Parliament House, which consists of both the Houses of Parliament, a joint session hall, and the Ministry of Legislative Affairs.  Image Credit: The Hindu

In all, there are 543 elected representatives from different states in the Lok Sabha. If the President feels that minority communities have not been properly represented, he may further appoint 2 more candidates of his choice to represent the minority communities. 

People of all religions in India, except Hinduism, are classified as minorities.

The Pre-Poll Drama

In such a huge country, conducting nationwide elections is a real logistical nightmare, even for the powerful Central Government. The Election Commission burns the midnight oil, and has to chalk out the whole thing.

A map showing the polling during the General Election 2014 in different phases. Image Credit: Election Commission of India

The EC decided to hold the 2014 General Elections in 9 phases, to ease the burden of logistics. The Central Government provides the EC with paramilitary forces to deploy for protection of election booths. They are deployed in tandem with the state and city police forces. 

The central forces normally arrive 2-3 days before the election begins, and starts route marches, to bring up the confidence of people. The job is not easy.

They must create a psychological introvertness towards getting involved in clashes, by advertising their presence. They must instill confidence in people. They must also protect the polling booths, where people vote, from violence. 

And just in case violence does break out, they must reach the spot along with law enforcement to bring the situation under control. 

Personnel from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) conduct a route march in Kanpur.  Image Credit: The Hindu

That’s not all. Maoists themselves, a group of armed rebels operating in jungle areas in India, are an internal security threat. A new paramilitary force, the CRPF, has been formed by the Central Government solely for counter-insurgency against Maoists. 

The EC called Maoist-infest areas “Red areas”. To ensure adequate safety, the EC made sure that polling in these “Red areas” took place on Full Moon nights. So that the job is easier for security forces at night.

While planning, the EC made sure that personnel travel the least possible, in order to be as less fatigued as possible. Special trains to ferry personnel were given by the Indian Railways.

The Government doesn’t have all the infrastructure for this massive logistical mobilization every 5 years. Therefore, many commercial vehicles are hired by the EC and law enforcement to transport polling officials and paramilitary personnel.

The EC appoint observers to keep watch on the whole polling process, and the law and order situation in specific areas. Anything out of the book, it’s a straight phone-call to the EC and law enforcement. They also often hire normal people, like you and me, as “micro-observers”, once again for the same task. 

Paramilitary personnel deployed in a polling booth, where people come to cast their votes.

On the day of polling, paramilitary personnel are deployed at most booths (the ones marked sensitive by the EC). At least 2 or 3 of them. Plus, law enforcement is on high alert, with the officers at the police control room at the edge of their seats. 

Intelligence Bureau officers work overtime, to ensure internal security. Officers at the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW), the external spy agency of India, also keep a watch on attacks being planned overseas.

All this is not to mention the extensive campaigning, and the war of words between political parties.

The Polling

Voters have to get themselves registered in the electoral voter list. Law Enforcement officers visit their house, to confirm their residential address, and soon you get the Voter ID Card: your key for the right to vote. 

There are about 25-30 polling booths in each constituency. You can turn up to vote at any one of your convenience. But you cannot vote in a booth outside your constituency. Most polling booths are schools.

From 6 AM to 7 AM, the booths are tested. A mock polling is held, where high-level EC officials check whether everything is working properly.

The Election Commission of India is headed by the Chief Election Commissioner. The current person in that post is Mr. V.S. Sampath.

You line up at the booth, with paramilitary personnel by your side. An EC official checks your Voter ID Card, and confirms whether your name is present in the electoral roll. If yes, you proceed to voting. 

The Electronic Voting Machine, through which the vote is cast. It is manufactured by a government-controlled company, Electronics Company of India Limited.

The person enters the enclosed area, with no one inside: your choice is supposed to be secret. The EVM looks like the one on the right in the image above.

In the EVM, there are buttons beside the name and symbol of each political party contesting in your constituency. The last button is NOTA, or None of the Above. You cast your vote for the party of your choice by clicking on the button beside its nameplate. If you choose to vote for none, you press the button beside NOTA. 

The NOTA option was included into the EVM very recently, a couple of months ago. A ruling by the Supreme Court of India said that voters should have the choice to reject all the options.

Once you cast your vote, a beep is heard. Your job is done!

The EVMs as such are manufactured by ECIL without the party nameplates, to prevent tampering. It is then tested only by ECIL engineers. Then, they are shipped off at random to the counting centre. At the counting centre, the nameplates are inserted. Then, they are again taken at random to different polling booths.

There must be a way to identify that you have already voted. Therefore, once you come out of the enclosure, a job needs to be done. An EC official marks your index finger with indelible ink, as shown below.

This indelible ink is mainly composed of silver nitrate. In India, it also contains a bit of alcohol too, which helps the ink to dry faster. The official lets you off only when the ink has dried. The position where it is applied is very strategic: you can’t get it off.

Once it has dried, it is impossible to get that ink off your skin, without getting very badly hurt with an uprooted nail. Even then, the silver nitrate particles would still glow under UV light. 

Once voting is over, the EVMs are sealed by the EC officer, and taken under vigil of paramilitary forces to the counting centre.

The Post-Poll Drama

Voting commences from 7 AM in the morning, to 4 or 5 PM in the evening. They may be extended by the EC.

Once done, the EC official at the booth seals the EVM, and takes it to the rendezvous. The place where the votes are to be counted. 

A specific date is earmarked by the EC for the counting of votes. On this day, officials turn up at the place of counting, in a strong room. The area within a 100 metre radius of the counting station is cordoned off. The circumference is protected with barricades, and paramilitary personnel and law enforcement deployed to prevent anyone from entering inside.

Votes being counted.

The EVMs are unsealed at the centre. Upon the press of a button, the number of votes polled for each party is revealed. The officials note down the figures.

Officers from the National Informatics Centre, the government agency tasked with maintaining government records and services, are also present. 

They immediately upload the figures from each EVM to a centralized database, viewable only by the Election Commission officials. Once all the EVMs for a particular constituency have been accounted for, the figures are publicly displayed here: http://eciresults.ap.nic.in/

As I write now, the counting for all 543 constituencies has been over. It’s evening. The results are out. Take a peek if you want. 

Government Formation

Ideally, the political party which gets a majority forms the Central Government. To get a majority, the party must have occupied no less than 1/2 of the seats in the Lok Sabha. Precisely speaking, that crucial figure is 273.

India has a multi-party system.

However, in recent times, no single party has been able to get an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. In such cases, if a group of parties form a coalition and get a majority, the coalition forms the government.

Normally, the single largest party in the coalition, quite obviously, heads it.

The party or coalition decides who amongst its members would be the Prime Minister. Then the Prime Minister, often in consultation with the party, then selects his ministers. His choice has to be approved by the President. 

The current President of India is Mr. Pranab Mukherjee.

In the case of the formation of a coalition, the President has to approve the formation of the coalition. This time, our President, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, has asked for written letters of consent from all parties willing to form a coalition to run the government. 

Other parties may form a coalition too, but that doesn’t need presidential approval.

Opposition in Parliament

Meanwhile, an opposition to the government is integral in the Parliamentary System of Government. Therefore, all parties which do not form the form a government are known as the opposition parties.

However, the Opposition in Parliament too needs to be led by the single largest opposition party. That party is known as the Leader of the Opposition. 

Rules in Indian Parliament require that the opposition party which secures 10% of the seats in Parliament (54 seats) is declared the Leader of the Opposition. 

************************************

The biggest talent show, the largest logistical nightmare, the most comprehensive party the world has ever seen, has finally come to an end.

 The EC, V.S. Sampath and his colleagues, can now heave a sigh of relief.

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