It is said Indian democracy is what Pakistanis admire the most about their neighbour, why Americans take the country seriously and Chinese find it baffling. The exercise of popular sovereignty that takes place in India is the single-most important reason why this subcontinent-sized country has belied six decades of predictions of future fragmentation and immediate collapse. The 2009 Lok Sabha elections have once more affirmed the continuing strength of Indian democracy.
The most obvious accomplishment was the result. But what deserves almost as much praise was the management of the election. Besides listing an electorate of 714 million, the Commission was able to ensure that now over 80 per cent of voters are registered by both name and picture — making fraud much more difficult. The number of polling stations were increased by a fifth and now include villages with just a few hundred voters. Perhaps most important was that this general election can be rated among the most peaceful and least fraud-ridden in independent India’s history. It has been noticeable how no major political party has protested the results from an administrative point of view.
There have been only two criticisms of the Election Commission’s handling this polling cycle. First, the time span of the election that ran from April 16 until May 13. This merges with the second criticism: if the election phases are so far apart, there needs to be a more nuanced approach to the application of the Model Code of Conduct. Far too much of the government’s day-to-day functioning became ensnarled in the Code’s embrace. These are administrative concerns and don’t impact the most important goal of an election: to ensure voters elect a government that’s legitimate both in perception and reality. The Commission is almost certain to have a full five years before the next Lok Sabha elections. This is enough time to consider how to fine-tune the system to address these issues. Surveys show that four out of five Indians believe their elections are free and fair. These elections have probably improved those figures.