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Another day, another controversy, another headache for the Election Commission (EC). This time it is the incident of the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, holding up a lotus cut-out at a press meeting after voting in Gandhinagar. The Congress has predictably raised the issue, alleging that it is a violation of the model code of conduct. The EC has taken action. Hardly a day has passed when one or the other political outfit has not alleged a violation of the model code of conduct, making the EC’s task really monumental.
As the population has grown, the phases of the election too have grown, especially since security has become a much greater issue today. This election will end after nine long phases. The EC has had to employ a mammoth number of officials to do everything from registering voters, to handing out voter slips, to transporting the electronic voting machines, to carting supplies of indelible ink, to attending to constant complaints. It is largely a manual job, involving people on the ground. But while the EC has remained almost the same for years, except that it has had to deploy ever greater manpower, the very nature of communication has changed.
A few years ago the Internet, Facebook and Twitter were not common modes of communication. Since then there has been a massive explosion in the 24-hour electronic media. So really, as soon as an incident takes place in one constituency, there is no way of ensuring that the news of it does not reach, via social media, another place where elections are yet to take place.
So in effect, new media has far outstripped the checks and balances that any organisation, leave alone the EC, can really handle at this juncture. This is something that needs to be looked into. As the polity splinters, there are bound to be more phases in the elections in the years to come and a far greater number of people participating. The very increase in participation and interest is partly because of social media and the electronic channels. By the time the EC kicks in to take action against any candidate for violating the code of conduct, the news about the offending incident has already got around a large number of states.
The growth of social media has helped in a way to make things more transparent. It is much harder to get away with misdemeanours or claim of being misquoted now. It must now be studied how to incorporate these new technological developments into the election process and their monitoring. In a country with a preponderance of techies, this should be the next challenge.