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The real costs of democracy

No one said democracy comes free, but this year’s price tag is especially costly. Campaign expenditures have skyrocketed, thanks to security burdens

india Updated: Apr 09, 2009 16:44 IST
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No one said democracy comes free, but this year’s price tag is especially costly. Campaign expenditures have skyrocketed. Election security expenses are greater than ever before.
India’s general election will cost in total a staggering Rs10,000 crore this year, according to the Centre for Media Studies. That figure does not include the productivity lost on the elections. This total expenditure has doubled since the last elections.
Insecurity means the elections will be held in five different phases. Voting will begin on 16 April in India’s most violent territory—Orissa, Chhattisgarh and eastern Maharashtra—under the watch of two million security personnel. In each successive phase, security forces will fan out towards India’s periphery —which they will reach in a month’s time.
Compared with the four-phase elections in 2004, this month-long march will be the most drawn out one in recent memory.
Insecurity is a multi-pronged beast: Security forces must protect against lawlessness in Bihar as well as from Islamic extremists crossing over from Pakistan.
Paramilitary and security forces are already on the government’s payroll, but the opportunity cost of focusing their energies on elections has ramifications for other lawless areas. Naxalites are blowing up police convoys in Chhattisgarh. The deteriorating security situation in South Asia has had a deleterious effect on India. Pakistan has spiralled out of control.
Elections are being held under a far more complicated security situation than during Jawaharlal Nehru’s time. There are obvious pitfalls to this: Focusing security on the elections means that sporting events such as the Indian Premier League could not be held simultaneously.
No one wants democracy to occur under a police state. But separatists force citizens to "boycott" elections, and mined roads in central-eastern India surely keep voters from the polls. It is the most fundamental responsibility of the state to ensure that all citizens can vote, free from violence and coercion.
Such are the burdens of being the world’s largest democracy.