The most emphatic acknowledgement of the Election Commission’s sterling role in overseeing a free and fair election in India’s most populous and electorally important state came not from the winner Mayawati or any objective observer of the UP assembly polls. It came from outgoing Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav. “The EC harmed the prospects of our party to a great extent... our voters were chased away by security forces while they coaxed some others to cast their votes,” said the Samajwadi Party leader. Admittedly, Mr Yadav’s intention was to point out that the whole electoral machinery was loaded against the ruling party. But what the erstwhile Chief Minister unintentionally underlined was that the ‘usual suspects’ who engage in booth-capturing and intimidation were firmly and fairly kept at bay.
If the word ‘elections’ conjure up an atmosphere of fear in any state, it has to be in Uttar Pradesh. The erosion of ethics and values in the state’s politics is so deep-rooted that it has become de rigeur to expect poll violence and booth-bullying. This time round, there was not a single recorded incident of poll violence in all the seven phases of the hustings. But most significantly, thanks to the Election Commission and the 1.2 lakh security personnel it deployed during the polls, members of communities who would not have dared to vote according to their choice — or come out to vote at all — felt so reassured about the arrangements that they did not hesitate to participate in a real exercise of universal adult franchise.
Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami continues the job that was started in 2002 during the much-lauded Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections. Coming under the international scanner as the Kashmir polls always tend to do, there was an opinion among some pundits that the enthusiasm to hold free and fair elections would lag when it came to overseeing polls elsewhere in India. As the preparations before and during the subsequent state elections in Gujarat, Bihar and West Bengal showed, the EC was not playing to any gallery. It was changing public perception not only about what elections were supposed to be but also about what democracy is required to be. In UP, such a mechanism was on display and the real winners have been the people. Finally, the instruments of democracy have provided them their rightful voice.