Shorter polls in autumn season - Hindustan Times
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Shorter polls in autumn season

ByHT Editorial
Jun 03, 2024 08:54 PM IST

The Election Commission should rework the polling schedule — hold it in fewer phases and, surely, in better weather

The Election Commission of India (ECI) deserves credit for completing the long-drawn-out election process for the 18th Lok Sabha, although its slips, especially its inability or reluctance (or both) to define red lines regarding hate speech and other campaign violations, were perhaps amplified by the high standards expected from the institution — a fall back to the time when former chief election commissioner (CEC) TN Seshan asserted the agency of the Commission as an independent constitutional body beholden to none but the Constitution. ECI would do well to think about what it could have done better; thus far, its response has taken the form of denial and falling back on verbiage. But, as the process concludes, there are more issues ECI needs to ponder.

Election Commission of India (MINT FILE PHOTO) PREMIUM
Election Commission of India (MINT FILE PHOTO)

One, it needs to rethink the schedule for the general elections. Until 2004, the general elections were mostly held in autumn. It makes no sense to hold this physically arduous exercise in peak summer, when temperatures in northern India touch 50 degrees, as they did this time. At least two dozen people involved in the polling process have reportedly died due to heat stroke. Doing so, will, of course, require political parties to agree and, perhaps, a legislative consensus since the longevity of the next House will be reduced by six months or so if the polls are rescheduled. Two, there is a need to cut down the number of phases of polling and reduce the duration of the process. If the first general elections in 1951-52 were spread over four months (68 phases), polling in 1980 was over in just four days. Between 1962 and 1989, the duration of the polls was between four to 10 days. This time it has stretched over 44 days (81 days from the announcement of elections to the counting of votes), five more than in 2019. This is inexplicable for at least two reasons. One, technology has shrunk both time and space and there is no reason ECI cannot rewire the process for early completion of the exercise. Second, elections are no longer susceptible to violence as they were in the past. The CEC said on Monday that ECI had to order just 39 repolls this season; incidents such as booth capture became a thing of the past many years ago. Moreover, the country has sufficient bench strength in paramilitary forces. Geography to examinations and public holidays — reasons given by ECI — do not justify the extended nature of the elections.

When the poll noise is over and after a new government is sworn in, ECI must address these concerns. This is unlikely to be a contentious issue compared to the idea of simultaneous polls, mooted by the Second Modi government and likely to find a renewed push under the Third, should that come to pass.

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