The magnitude of Nonstop Election Cycle
Every year, on an average, 5 states go to assembly elections in India, the world’s largest democracy. About 166 million voters cast their votes in this annual exercise. Considering India’s electoral size, these perpetual election cycles are becoming more and more testing as it imposes a heavy cost on the exchequer besides loading governance machinery with serious effort and time in holding them. Sensible governance is held back or interrupted most of the time in the frenzy of almost annual elections.
There is no comparison anywhere in the world for Indian elections considering sheer size and population. National elections of countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Germany, the USA, may be compared with Indian state elections.
In 2013, the Election Commission held nine state assembly elections. The combined electoral strength of these nine states exceeds 165 million. The closest electoral exercise that can be compared to this massive number of electors is Indonesian national elections with 194 million voters.
In 2014, another nine states went for assembly elections with 223 million voters. Here proximate comparison can be made in scale with the last presidential elections in the US, where 230 million voters had the right to vote. In the same year, national elections were held to constitute the 16th Lok Sabha. For General Elections, Election Commission of India deployed 2 million electronic voting machines in 930,000 polling stations manned by 10 million polling officers for 834 million registered voters. It is equivalent to conducting 3.6 US Presidential elections in terms of electoral numbers. In initial years (1951-52) of our democracy, when simultaneous elections were held, India’s elector strength was 173 Million compared to 834 Million (2014), a 4.8 times increase in last 63 years. It explains the increase in the complexity of Indian elections. Considering India’s population projections, 20 per cent more voters will be added to above electoral arithmetic by 2025, making India a democracy of billion voters.
The Election Commission is engaged in holding elections for at least 67 million electors annually. In 2015 Bihar & Delhi (re-election) assembly elections were conducted. Bihar assembly elections (2015) are equitable to Germany, which has 61.5 million voters. Delhi re-elections, with 13 Million voters, can be added in 2015 figures. Delhi elections, though small (comparatively) in electoral strength, have a significant impact on socio-political discourse across India.
In the next consecutive years, five and seven states contested assembly elections with 162 million and 213 million eligible voters respectively. This exercise is comparable to national elections in Brazil (142 million), and the USA.
Cost to Cut
The cost of conducting the 2014 Lok Sabha election alone was ₹3870 crores. The Maharashtra assembly election is estimated at ₹500 crores in the same year. In 2015, Bihar, with 67 million registered voters, incurred an expenditure of ₹300 crores. The Gujarat assembly poll, in 2017, incurred an expenditure of around ₹240 crores. Many state assembly elections cost more than 5 per cent of the general assembly election. This expenditure cuts deep into developmental activities. Simultaneous state and national elections may reduce the burden. ECI report suggests that simultaneous Centre & State elections will reduce election cost to ₹4500 Crore.
For 2014 General Election 1349 Companies of the Central Armed Police Forces were deployed. More than 560 companies of CAPFs (560,000 personals) were deployed for 16.7 million electors in 21,418 polling stations during the Chhattisgarh assembly elections in 2013. For Bihar election in 2015, more than 750 companies of CAPFs were deployed. Gujarat deployed 389 companies of central armed police forces for 2017 assembly elections including 90 Border Security Force companies, 35 from Indo-Tibetan Border Police and 34 from the Sashastra Seema Bal. Nagaland deployed 281 companies of CAPFs for the upcoming state elections. With state elections spread across five years in an election cycle, Central Armed Police Forces, which include BSF, ITBP, CISF, SSB stand engaged in election duties for a prolonged period every year away from their primary chartered duties of border and critical perimeter security. This is a dangerous situation considering the inimical alien designs by proxy.
A perpetual state of elections has a negative impact on the social harmony as in most cases election strategies are divisive and emotionally exploitative. Also, social media and the Internet brings in a new paradigm where socially divisive strategy affect the entire nation. Polarising nature of electoral politics has a significant negative impact on the national psyche. Society is under continues stress with 20% population going to election every year.
Social Media and digital communication tools are empowering the democratic process with its default transparency and equal opportunity for every individual to raise questions that are important for the nation and people. However, its misuse and manipulation from within and outside need thorough consideration while thinking about elections in a digital era.
Policy-making takes years if not decades in a nation of 1.3 billion with its long concurrent list. As a democratic Union, it is also crucial that our policy institutions (state and centre) are in sync with each other for policy making and implementation. States going into election phase may not concur with the centre on policy matters due to election strategy, causing a delay in decision-making and implementation. With 20 per cent of the country engaged in elections every year, the delay is carried forward. In a youthful country like India, the delay in the delivery of development and reforms is detrimental. It has the potential for significant national security challenges.
Under the constant pressure of winning elections, political leadership fall for immediate electoral gains and appeasement rather than crafting long-term national policies for the overall wellbeing of the people. There is an uneasy understanding between electors and politicians that if elections are near, the government will not take hard decisions. This is enough for a governance holiday for the public and government.
Constant election cycle causes serious blockade to governance as politicians and political parties are concerned with numbers in Rajyasabha and Loksabha to remain in power. National governance takes a back seat. The process of securing the chair keeps the representative of the people away from their seats of national governance. This is dangerous to the national interests in a highly competitive world.
This continuous election scenario raises a fundamental question for the Indian democratic process: “Should the electoral process be an instrument of good governance leading to the maximisation of the well-being of the people or should it be a deterrent to such an objective? Presently the annual political activity in India does not look supportive to the national interests. Hence this process needs to be reviewed urgently in the interest of the people of the country.