Lok Sabha Elections 2019
World’s biggest democratic election
- India’s multi-phase general elections kicked off on April 11, 2019 when millions voted in 91 constituencies across 20 states and federal territories in the first phase of the polls.
- Between April 11 and May 19, India will be moving more than 2.5 lakh central forces personnel on over 25 helicopters, over 500 trains, 17,500 vehicles, hundreds of horses and mules and scores of boats and ships at a cost of more than Rs 200 crore. These are the logistics of organising and securing elections in the world’s largest democracy.
- Approximately 900 million voters – more than the combined population of the United States and the European Union- are eligible to participate in the world’s biggest electoral exercise.
- Getting 90 crore people to vote across 10 lakh booths in 543 seats spread over 33 lakh sq km takes months of planning, gathering of resources, meticulous coordination and exceptional management skills.
- Given India’s diversity, caste and communal fissures and threats from insurgency and terrorism, it is a huge logistical challenge.
- The seven-phase elections will conclude on May 19. Results will be announced on May 23.
- Voters from across 29 states and seven federally-administered territories will elect 543 members to the lower house of parliament called the “Lok Sabha” or House of the People over the course of more than a month.
- The party or coalition with a simple majority (273 seats) is invited to form a government. The MPs from the winning party or coalition elect their leader who then becomes the country’s prime minister.
- At least 2,354 political parties are registered with the Election Commission of India – an autonomous constitutional body – for the 17th House of the People elections. However, only around 500 of them are expected to field candidates.
- In the 2014 elections, 8,251 candidates from more than 460 political parties contested the elections.
Who does what
- Election Commission: The EC remains the supreme body organising the elections beginning from deciding the schedule to allocation of resources and coordinating civilian and uniformed manpower.
- General elections entail a very large movement of central and state police forces.
- As per different requirements of different states in different phases, the movement of these forces is planned and it is as per the orders of the Election Commission and the Home Ministry.
- The movement entails arranging for trains, meals and accommodation of the jawans, their briefing and familiarisation of particular theatres.
- It is a very complex exercise and requires exactness and precision so that the forces are available at the right time and at the right place.
- Home Ministry: The Home Ministry provides the security force companies in consultation with the EC and ties up with other ministries such as Railways and state governments for movement of forces.
- CRPF: The CRPF is the nodal force coordinating deployment and movement of all forces on election duty.
- The EC has a secretariat headquartered in Delhi, but this set-up is not enough to conduct elections on this scale.
- The Constitution provides that the President or the Governor of a state is obliged to provide all “such staff as may be necessary” for the EC to conduct elections.
- The expression “such staff as may be necessary” was at the centre of controversy in 1993, before the Supreme Court decided that the EC and the government should jointly decide the staff and forces required for conduct of elections. Since then, it has always been done through mutual consultation.
Fixing the calendar
- The first challenge is deciding the dates.
- Every state has unique culture and religious practices.
- So, if you plan to hold elections in the Northeast on one date, you have to ensure there is no festival in any of the seven states on that date.
- And each state has different festivals. So the EC has very few dates to begin with.
- Drawing up a list of public holidays, therefore, is the first step.
- The EC also tries to keep regular religious practices in mind while narrowing down on dates.
- Since the Northeast states have a significant population which goes to church every Sunday, we don’t keep polling on that day. Similarly, for Kerala, where a number of voters are Muslim, we avoid Fridays.
- The EC also factors in examination schedule and weather patterns.
- For example, states that receive early monsoon rains like the Northeast have to wind up voting by April.
- The EC normally prepares a number of dummy calendars with different sets of dates. This is done to ensure secrecy.
Forces on the move
- Once the EC gives out a list of available dates, the Home Ministry and forces sit down to chart out the best possible schedule that will suit force movement. Depending on what forces can achieve with minimum movement and least use of resources, poll schedules are decided.
- Forces deployed in Tripura cannot move to Kanyakumari in the next phase. Distances matter. So schedules have to be worked out depending on availability of forces in nearby regions to ensure minimum movement. There has to be enough time between phases to ensure smooth movement and optimum rest.
- Given that insurgency-hit areas will require fresh legs, districts affected by left-wing extremist violence and secessionist militancy in Chhattisgarh, Jammu & Kashmir and the Northeast will vote first. So will the Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands and the hills of Uttarakhand.
- Difficult areas will require greater concentration of forces. Islands of Andaman and Lakshadweep require days of travel. Troops from Kolkata and Tamil Nadu move over three to four days in ships. Then all islands have to be covered in ferries and boats. In the hills, going up requires time. So, once they are done, movement of forces becomes smoother and faster.
- For Chhattisgarh, even lunar cycles have been kept in mind while drawing up schedules. In certain parts of Naxal-affected Chhattisgarh, we need forces to make movements in the night on foot. For that we need a moonrise between 5-7 pm, so that it sets early morning giving us a full moonlit night.
- Schedules for the next few phases have also been decided based on availability and mobility of forces. Forces deployed in UP will move eastward laterally until the last phase of elections. In Bihar, forces will move from south to east and then laterally to west. This will help concentrate forces in the last two phase of elections in UP’s Purvanchal and West Bihar districts which have high population density.
- The CRPF has worked out deployment to ensure that forces now in the Northeast will later move on to West Bengal, Bihar and Odisha, and not any farther. The companies deployed in UP will be there through the entire schedule. Those in Andhra and Telangana will move to Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the next few phases.
- In the last two elections, deployment has been worked out scientifically. For example, the units which secure polls on April 11 will get free only by April 13 to board a train and reach his destination on April 14. After some rest , they will be available for the next phase on April 18. But the third phase is on April 23, with little gap. So what we have deployed forces for the first three phases now itself. Barring a few states like UP, the forces deployed in the first phase will be moved to secure the fourth phase giving enough time for movement, rest and recuperation.
Forces on the ground
- Time and energy are also consumed in arranging logistics such as accommodation and food for the forces.
- The state government provides accommodation. But suppose it’s a school in Sukma, Chhattisgarh, we have to turn it into a fortified camp with morchas and sandbags.
- It’s also not enough to secure booths and accommodation. In areas such as Chhattisgarh and Odisha, even roads have to be secured.
- Every state has force coordinators and state police poll coordinators who take care of all the logistics as forces move from one place to another. Their job is humongous as they are not merely handling the 2.5 lakh central forces soldiers but also state police which is in comparable numbers and moving.
- To ensure time is not wasted in cooking, CRPF has tied up with IRCTC to provide food for troops moving in trains. Earlier, trains would stop at stations and troops would cook on platforms throwing the entire deployment schedule haywire, said sources.
- On the ground, things have to be dealt with at rather micro level. Every booth is a unique challenge requiring “anywhere between five to 100 men to secure them”.
- Then there are booths where no roads reach. Both poll officials and troops have to reach these places on mules or on foot.
- Voting in India is conducted by electronic voting machines or EVM, which was first introduced in 1982. More than 2.3 million EVMs will be used in 2019 elections as compared with 1.8 million ones in 2014.
- To check for foul play, vehicles transporting the EVMs will be fitted with GPS devices to monitor their movements.
- The EVMs allows vote counting to be completed in up to three hours compared with manual counting, which could take 30 to 40 hours.
- The electoral body also uses digital cameras, videotaping of speeches and the use of wireless networks during the election process.
- In the current elections, Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines will be used along with EVMs at all polling stations after opposition parties questioned the EVMs’ accuracy.
- The VVPAT allows the voter to cross-check the votes.
- Ever since EVMs were introduced in 1982, they have been questioned and challenged, but they have stood judicial scrutiny and they stood the test of time. Now we have introduced VVPAT, which means a paper slip is generated, which can be used to crosscheck the figures in the machines.
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