Lesson from the long election season of 2019
The long-drawn-out, seven-phase, elections for the 17th Lok Sabha are finally over. While the results are yet to be announced, it is an opportune moment to look back and internalise the lessons thrown up during the conduct of these elections. To begin with, there is an urgent need to shift towards shorter election seasons. The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) was enforced on March 10 and polling took place between April 11 and May 19. When most elections around the world get over in a matter of one or two days, such a long election season is an anachronism in this day and age. It is true that India throws up many more challenges than other democracies, yet it is undeniable that the Election Commission (EC) plays too safe while deciding the election schedule.
The long election season is neither good for governance nor for the health of democracy. The governance suffers with the MCC in place. And the political rhetoric plumbs to its lowest depths — no political party came out looking good in the last two months. The election season ensured that even the management of Cyclone Fani was not without problems in West Bengal because of a tough, no-holds-barred, political fight between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Trinamool Congress.
This was also a tough election for the EC. It has been accused of favouring the incumbent and not doing enough to create a level playing field. It has been found to be slow in acting on the complaints filed. A crisis of sorts was created when one of the members of the Commission, Ashok Lavasa, decided to step aside from EC meetings because his dissents were not being recorded. The EC then decided to reopen some of those cases in which Mr Lavasa had dissented. But that was too little too late. It became clear that the EC was unprepared for the political joust that this election turned out to be. It will be appropriate if the EC reviews its own performance and comes out with an honest self-appraisal. Perhaps the poll body needs to beef up its capacity to deal with the increasing number of complaints. There is also a need to look at the MCC, which hasn’t kept pace with the march of technology and social media.
Finally, it is not a bad idea to look at the idea of simultaneous polls. India has state elections after every few months. All such elections are increasingly being marked by stagnation in governance or administration with an eye on the elections, poor political rhetoric, astronomical spending by parties and decreasing trust in institutions. It is time we had a serious debate on clubbing all state and general elections into one or two batches.