Five poll officers walked 40 km — the distance from Manesar in Haryana to Rajiv Chowk in Delhi — in the snow bound hills of Zanskar, Western Ladakh, on Tuesday to ensure that a total of 37 people got to cast their votes in the last phase on April 13.
A polling station was set up for a lone voter, Bharat Shah, in Gujarat’s Gir Forest. Six mobile booths moved from one hamlet to another in Rajasthan’s desert districts of Barmer and Jaisalmer, bringing democracy close to people’s homes.
The length and breadth of the country posed many more such challenges, but after their two month long polling exercise divided into five phases, one fact is already indubitable: even before the votes have been counted on May 16, there is a clear winner — the Election Commission.
Consider the staggering statistics: over 70 lakh officials were employed to enable an electorate of 71.4 crore people to vote.
“This is more than the combined population of Northern America and Europe,” said Laxmana Dalmia, who has made a documentary on the election campaign. A total of 8070 candidates from 390 political parties, apart from independents, contested 543 seats.
Over 100 fax machines and 50 computers, installed across a number of large halls, receive reports from over 2,400 central election observers as well as the complaints sent in by political parties and contestants.
“Every such report was taken notice of. Nothing goes ignored here,” said S.Y. Quraishi, election commissioner.
Despite the Naxal blitzkrieg in the first phase of polling, election related violence was markedly less this time than in earlier general elections. “Violence fell by 60-70 per cent compared to the 2004 Lok Sabha poll,” said J.P. Prakash. “Even the number of booths where repelling was required, were far less.”
Problems, however, remain. Despite the official curbs on expenditure and the model code of conduct imposed, the poll panel is aware it has not been able to effectively check the use of money power to influence voters. “We will have to do something to control misuse of money,” said Quraishi.
Around Rs 40 crore were seized in raids during the campaign. “We are looking at reforms to have even cleaner polls in future,” said Quraishi.