The spectacle of India’s general elections is always impressive; this time it looks even more so. Undoubtedly, the hero most prominent here is the Election Commission, which has opted for nine phases of polling, chiefly in order to ensure that adequate security forces are present at each trouble spot. It has meant careful matching of dates with force numbers and presence, so that there is the necessary flow and concentration, from the Northeast to areas threatened by Maoists for example, as well as other strategies, such as having the entire Maoist-hit area go to polls on one day. Various regional festivals and holidays have had to be considered as well. These elections are striking in other ways too. There will be a ‘none of the above’ button for the first time on electronic voting machines, widening the meaning of democratic choice and introducing a small thorn of discomfort into politicians’ sides. The EC has also increased the net of mandatory disclosures for candidates by asking for the declaration of foreign accounts. The updating of electoral rolls — the last camp for that being on March 9 — and the addition of 100 million voters since 2009 indicate that there is at least one institution in the country that takes its job seriously. That job is enormous by any scale, something that sets the whole world an example.
The other real hero of the elections is the people. In spite of their disgust with politicians — this has become obvious on many occasions, and not just through the victory of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi — they still believe in the power of choice and in dreams of betterment. It is not enough, therefore, to have a stunning show of the process of democracy; the elections are meant to lead to meaningful governance and a strengthening of democratic institutions. When one session after another is disrupted in Parliament without a single member being penalized for it — they do not even lose their sitting allowance after they walk out — then the substance of democracy cannot be said to be safe. Parliament is the heart of democracy: no one who disrupts it can be allowed to get away. If a number of members from a particular party are guilty, that party should not be allowed to contest in the next elections. Only this kind of rigour will force political parties to act responsibly. The millions who go out to vote deserve at least this from their leaders.