The inside story of the Indian general elections by the former CEC
The Indian election is a gigantic exercise that is often called the ‘greatest show on earth’.
As Gopalkrishna Gandhi sums up in his foreword to this book: “India is valued the world over for a great many things, but for three over others: The Taj Mahal, Mahatma Gandhi and India’s electoral democracy. The credit for the last of the three fames goes to the people of India... The people are the propulsive force, the driving energy of India’s electoral democracy... But the vehicle’s engine… is the Election Commission of India. And behind the vehicle’s steering wheel is the Chief Election Commissioner of India.”
Dr SY Quraishi, he says, has not only given us a “vivid portrayal of what makes India’s elections work and prevail over many obstacles that confront it,” but also “confidence and pride.”
“The book is my modest attempt to unravel the myth and mystery behind the great election machine, the men and women who run the world’s largest democracy and the citizens who participate in it with great gusto,” says Dr Quraishi.
As promised, the pages are replete with anecdotes, case studies and analyses. The book is divided into 13 chapters. The most interesting reads are: Engaging Youth: Converting Subjects into Citizens, Secure Elections Safer Democracy, Voter Education towards Peoples’ Participation and Money Power in Elections.
Dr Quraishi, in the chapter on ‘Use of Technology in the Indian Elections’ outlines the Election Commission’s efforts at providing better services that include online enrolment in electoral rolls, complaint registration and public grievance management, call centres for public grievances, online information sharing and electoral roll search. And, yet, tens of thousands of people have been unable to vote in Maharashtra and elsewhere.
Dr Quraishi also dwells at length on his own innovations, including the creation of voters’ education and election expenditure monitoring divisions, India International Institute of Democracy and election management and distribution of voter slips and their impact.
The most illuminative for me was an extract of the election rules and processes in early medieval India (sourced from www.conserveheritage.org). The stringent pre-qualification and disqualification norms of an earlier era, such as knowledge of business, honest income, a pure mind, accountability and many others probably need to be included in the Representation of Peoples Act once again.
The book ends with the author’s reflections on ‘a few unresolved issues that affect Indian polity’ such as elections as the source of major corruption, the rise of the rich in politics, participation without representation, etc.
Overall, this book is a must-read for all Indians to understand, from a man who has conducted this greatest show, what it means to participate in the election process. They will then see that being part of democratic India is not just a right or a duty but a privilege; and, hopefully, we will see even larger numbers of people coming out to vote in the future.