PAK POLL Can Indian Election Commission Learn A Lesson or Two?

At least there is one thing for which Pakistan should be given credit. The much-maligned country has proved that election can be held – both for parliament and four state assemblies – in one-day,

Written by

SOROOR AHMED

Published on

At least there is one thing for which Pakistan should be given credit. The much-maligned country has proved that election can be held – both for parliament and four state assemblies – in one-day, counting can start on the same evening and final results can come out by the next day. No, this was not the first time such a thing has happened. Even in March 1977 the election results were out within 24 hours. India also had famous post-Emergency election in March 1977, but it took much more time.
If Pakistan, a nation of 18 crore with much more difficult terrain than ours, can hold election in such a short time – and that too when the country is passing through its worst-phase – why we in India cannot do the same. After all Pakistan is no less densely populated than India and faces the same problem which we face. Is it that the bureaucracy-dominated Election Commission of India unnecessarily shows down the whole process of election? After all for many of our bureaucrats election time is a festive time. Men like T N Seshan, K J Rao and company threw all the norms and rules to the wind to hold election as they willed. Instead of facing criticism for such a prolonged election process and expenditure of several thousand crores they are praised as our national heroes. May one ask as to what forced the Election Commission of India to start counting in Haryana in the last assembly election 24 days after the polling was over?
One must learn to call a spade a spade. If the Indian Election Commission claims that it holds free and fair elections then they must accept that Pakistani election was almost free and fair this time and on several occasions in the past too. And in spite of being on the verge of virtual civil war the casualty figures on the election day were only 24. In UP and Bihar, the election day violence often leaves more people dead than this figure.
So the election of Pakistan has at least something for us to learn. Though we have held more elections than Pakistan we, it seem, have failed to improve the whole process. This notwithstanding the fact that we are ahead of not only Pakistan but also the United States in using Electronic Voting Machines.
We must not only indulge in nit-picking and find faults with our rivals. Sometimes we also need to learn from them. If the officials in the Election Commission of India – may be off the record – say that the Indian politicians and party-workers are big rascals and it cannot hold election in less time, it is not true. The politicians and party-workers of Pakistan are equally bad.
The unique aspect of Pakistan election is that both Parliament and assemblies went to poll simultaneously on the same day. We, notwithstanding all the resources and para-military forces from other states, fail to hold election in one day in states like UP, Bihar, Gujarat etc. After all in this age of Right to Information one has the right to ask the Election Commission of India as to what is wrong with our whole system of conducting election.
The irony is that men like K J Rao, the so-called advisor to the Election Commission, worked like the extra-constitutional authorities in the recent years. He used to hop from one constituency to another in a helicopter on the polling day and capture one or two booth-grabbers for the sake of media coverage. None of our senior journalists, academics and conscience-keepers questioned this absurd behaviour of this highly placed official. Are we supposed to spend millions on helicopter for a man to do his job, which a police constable is able to do. Can election be held only in this way? If yes, then we must have an open debate on it and some right-thinking persons should sit down and come up with a solution.
There is another unique Indian phenomenon called countermanding, re-election and re-counting. During the last 15 years Election Commission countermanded elections of leaders like Inder Kumar Gujral, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav and some other persons. Similarly it ordered re-election in several booths in the constituency from which the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi contested in 1989. How can it be that the Election Commission is unable to hold free and fair election even in such a prestigious constituency? In Pakistan we do not have any such complaint this time and on several occasions in the past too.
But what is important is not just the holding of election. In Pakistan the 1970 election was one of the fairest ever held in that country. Yet it led to its dismemberment and Bangladesh came into existence a year later. In March 1977 the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, rigged the election. There was widespread resentment and agitation. Bhutto was finally dethroned on July 5, 1977 and was subsequently hanged on April 4, 1979. In India Indira Gandhi got rigged the 1971 election in her own constituency. The opposition candidate Raj Narain moved the court and in 1975 Allahabad high court ruled in his favour. Indira Gandhi, instead of resigning from the post of Prime Minister, imposed Emergency, amended the Constitution with retrospective effect and prolonged her stay in power only to lose in March 1977.
The problem with Pakistan is that though the track record of election process there is better than that of India, democracy failed to flourish there because of several reasons. This is slightly a different issue and cannot be discussed here for want of space. But the Election Commission, the political parties and of course the people of that country need to be patted on the back for holding the election in such a difficult time and in such a difficult situation with all eyes riveted to that country.