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Doubts About 2019 Polls? Relax! Ex-CEC SY Quraishi Has the Answers

Former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi clarifies all doubts surrounding the forthcoming elections.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Image of SY Quraishi, former election commissioner of India, used for representation.
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The dates for the 2019 general elections have finally been announced. The Election Commission’s (EC) much-awaited press conference threw up the record breaking nature of the forthcoming ‘festival of democracy’. The electorate is now 900 million strong, set to go to polls in a million polling stations, with 2.33 million ballot units, 1.63 million control units and 1.74 million VVPATs.

A mind boggling 11 million of the polling staff will be deployed. Thousands of polling parties will be walking 2-3 days to access the inaccessible areas so that everyone can cast their franchise. Over ten dozen trains with 3,000 coaches, 200,000 buses and cars, boats, elephants and camels will be involved in transporting staff and materials for ensuring a zero error election.

Obviously, a number of factors come into play while scheduling such a mammoth exercise, centering on the convenience of the voters. March is out of bounds because children have their exams. Lakhs of schools and teachers are on election duty. Other considerations include agricultural cycles, weather conditions, festivities, law and order situations, etc.

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Why the Staggered Poll Schedule?

Ever since the announcement was made, aspersions have been cast on the EC’s neutrality in determining the dates and the phases. So let me attempt to respond to some of them.

First is the staggered schedule of the polls. The reason is preventing the loss of lives. Pre-poll and poll day violence results in hundreds of lives being taken during elections. Every political party now demands the deployment of security forces.

For instance, I remember the Chief Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, demanding the deployment of forces in the 2010 Bihar assembly elections, even when it was 10-phased.

This raises the question: who really stands to benefit from such a schedule? My response is no one, and everyone. Free, fair and bloodless elections are a concern for the entire country.

Although in this age of electronic media and social media there are negative effects too, but the pros outweigh the cons by a long stretch. If we had enough paramilitary forces, the EC would have happily done all elections in a single day. I, for one, have been suggesting that the government should raise many more battalions as it would strengthen our security which is under ever-increasing threats. It will also lead to job creation.

Clarifying Doubts On Polls in Odisha, Maharashtra, J&K

Secondly, why 4 phases in Odisha which used to have a 2-phase election? After all, some Naxalism-affected states are conducting polls in a single phase. This requires full knowledge of facts taken into consideration, which are only in the possession of the EC. It is the sole prerogative of the DM and SP to assess the security situation, and that is unquestionable. I can’t really anticipate anyone’s political motives.

Maharashtra is being discussed. Even though it is the best-governed state in the country, it also has a Maoist belt, and hence, security is a very prominent concern. The fact remains that if there have been three phases in the past, a fourth is not unnatural.

Coming to the Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections. The Election Commission was clear in its response in the press conference: law and order. Questions are being raised, with some justification, that if the situation is conducive to the Lok Sabha elections, why not simultaneous elections?

What I could make of the Chief Election Commissioner’s explanation was that a lot more security is required for state elections. This is true because the number of candidates for the Vidhan Sabha would be 8-10 times more.

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What About the North and West Bengal?

Then there are other issues being discussed such as the phases of polling in other states, such as Delhi, Haryana and Punjab. Uttarakhand is going to polls in the first phase, while Himachal is going to polls in the last phase. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter one way or the other.

Normally, areas that require more security are taken up first, so that security forces could be available for area domination for longer periods. I, for one, don’t see why this is an issue in itself. For instance, security forces of Uttarakhand can be moved easily to adjoining UP, and of Punjab and Haryana to Himachal Pradesh.

As regards the query about West Bengal’s phases increasing from 5 to 7, it may be because the political temperature there is rather hot, and the EC does not want to take any chances. Hence, I don’t think it makes much of a difference.

Speculations & Misinterpretations

These speculations are commonplace and the EC has been dealing with them for a long time. It has also gone to ridiculous extremes in the past. Way back in February 2009, while I was making a public presentation at India House, London, the 2009 elections were just round the corner, and a journalist asked me how the EC fixes election dates. I responded with a long list of considerations as mentioned in the beginning. I was quoted as saying that even though the EC hasn’t discussed the dates, it will be between 7 April and 15 May.

This was misinterpreted, and all hell broke loose!

Many leaders at the time said that the poll dates were being announced not in India but from London. The controversy was finally put to rest after our High Commissioner issued a clear denial. This incident gives you all you need to know about the present situation.

(The writer is former Chief Election Commissioner of India and the author of ‘An Undocumented Wonder – the Making of the Great Indian Election’. He tweets at @DrSYQuraishi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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