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PASSING SHOW

It is a spectacular example of organization, and in 2014 it has been larger than ever. India’s Lok Sabha elections, with almost 814 million eligible voters, had to be spread over six weeks and nine phases, for no hubris could tempt human beings to manage 9,30,000 polling stations in one, two, or even seven days. Imaged as a ‘show’, or even a ‘circus’, general elections in India cannot avoid being a spectacle, with its massive arrangements, mounting excitement, ceaseless bickering and dramatic sulks. But the heroes of the spectacle are the people. They overcome the pains of the unkindest weather, impossible roads, interminable queues, threats from extremists of all kinds and, most important, their own diminishing faith in politicians in order to vote — again. Yet the system is still far from perfect. The 2014 elections have once more exposed many persistent weaknesses, providing areas for reflection that can be explored so that the process can gain in credibility.

The repeated tussles between the Election Commission and politicians of various parties, for example, seem to urge a review of the EC’s role. The resolution may lie in giving more, not fewer, powers to that institution. In spite of its present powers, about which many politicians are quite bitter, the EC cannot always implement its dictates. This is more striking in states where regional parties are dominant instead of the parties striving to control the Centre. In certain situations, for example, it seems if the EC could make its own arrests, it would certainly help. It should definitely have the power to decide which regions in a state should have the heaviest security during polling. A strong regional party often hijacks such decisions. Yet the EC’s model code of conduct is premised on the need for a specific set of ethical behaviours that differs from normal politicking. It could prompt further thought about a kind of time-bound neutrality during elections, perhaps through a caretaker government, or other forms of neutral administration, maybe purely bureaucratic, but linked directly to the Centre. For especially disturbed areas, president’s rule, or something equivalent to it, could perhaps be thought of, but only as a last resort. To be perceived as a truly credible democratic exercise, the greatest show on earth requires clear thinking and firmly handled changes. That alone would make it worth the people’s trust.