The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Wonder ceases with familiarity. But any objective observer would be forced to grant that the massive scale of the electoral exercise in India is cause for some amazement. Even when the polling is limited to assembly elections in five states, the manpower, coordination and discipline actually in operation are fairly impressive. It seems more so when four of those five states are crucial in the balance of power at the Centre, for which elections will be held within a year. In Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the battle is almost entirely between the two major parties. The Bharatiya Janata Party hopes to snatch at least two, if not more, states out of the clutches of the ruling Congress there. Indian politicians are not famed for fair play, and it is easy to imagine what the scene could have been in the run-up to these elections — and during polling — had there not been strict monitoring by the Election Commission. The EC has gained in stature since the early days of Mr T.N. Seshan as chief election commissioner. Mr J.M. Lyngdoh, the present CEC, too, has been unsparing in his vigilance. Unimpressed by what he has called “tricks” of politicians, he forbade the use of Mr Ajit Jogi’s portrait on children’s schoolbags in Chhattisgarh. He also called to account Ms Sonia Gandhi, and the Punjab chief minister, Mr Amarinder Singh, for the alleged misuse of state aircraft when the model code of conduct was in place.

Given the volatile possibilities, it can be said that Mr Lyngdoh’s firmness has had a salutary effect on the whole. Not that there have not been any clashes, no injuries, or absolutely no deaths at all. Some electronic voting machines have been smashed and names found missing on certain electoral rolls. Repolling in a few booths may be necessary. But compared to the size of the electoral exercise, these incidents are minor ones. Apart from spurts of localized violence, the really serious problem is imperfectly compiled voters’ lists. In Chhattisgarh, the situation has been especially tense. The People’s War had given a call to boycott the polls there and had turned murderous on election-eve. Also, the BJP is particularly edgy in the state, ever since Mr Dilip Singh Judeo was caught on video allegedly accepting a bribe. The tension is keen in Madhya Pradesh too, for there the BJP’s campaign against Mr Digvijay Singh has been noticeably aggressive. Since it is the strongman on the ground who enacts these tensions, largely violence-free elections are enough to make the state administrations, the chief polling officers and the EC feel somewhat content.

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