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Elections: Then & now

delhi Updated: May 16, 2009 00:05 IST
Chetan Chauhan
Chetan Chauhan
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

That the switch from ballot paper to electronic voting machine has transformed the face of Indian elections is well known. But in the years since Independence, elections have changed in other ways as well.

Across the 15 Lok Sabha elections between 1951 and 2009, the number of polling and security staff has increased more than 12 times.

In 1951, the first chief election commissioner employed 16,000 clerks on contract for six months to prepare the electoral rolls for India’s first general election. Today, 13 lakh government officials do the job of updating them in a month before each election.

On Saturday, around 200 Indian news channels, apart from over 100 websites and giant electronic screens, will blare forth the results.

But right up to the 1980s, the only sources of election news while counting was on, were All India Radio and Doordarshan. (Before television in the 1970s, it was just AIR.)

“Unlike now, when election news runs without a break, there were only periodic news bulletins then,” recalled veteran radio commentator Jasdev Singh.

Those really interested and living in district headquarters could, however, hang around outside the counting centre. The results at that centre alone, would be put up on a large blackboard outside, and periodically updated.

Before the arrival of EVMs in the late 1990s — its use was universalised only in the 2004 poll — manual counting of ballot papers took two to three days. In 1951, with an electorate one-third the size of the present, counting had taken four days. Now results are known the same evening.

“Till the EVMs arrived, each ballot had to be physically taken out of the box, shown to counting agents, and then counted,” said K.J. Rao, who spent 25 years at the EC before retiring in 2005. “Now press a button and you get the number of votes polled by each candidate in each booth."