The elections in India are over. The dust has settled. For me one of the most enduring images of the elections was a policewoman guarding a locked room where the electronic voting machines were kept. She was one of the two million security personnel whose job was to ensure free and fair elections.
We Indians have a habit of taking things for granted. Elections are the responsibility of the election commission. Hence we are oblivious of the magnitude of the arrangements made. Lets us look at the statistics.
Total Voter registered – 713.77 million
Polling stations – 834000
Total number of candidates – 8070
Total voting machines – 1.4 million
Total number of staff associated with elections – 10 million
The election commission would have spent close to Rs. 20 billion (Rs 2000 crore) on the above arrangements. It is comforting to know 39-Ralakung with a total population of 23 voters and 40-Phema with 14 voters ( both in Jammu and Kashmir ) have polling stations with the polling staff trekking almost a day in advance in adverse knee deep snow conditions so that democracy is delivered to the doorstep of every Indian individual. Even if it tokenism, it’s worth it.
The total estimated expenditure for the Indian elections is Rs 10000-12000 crore (Including expenditure by Political parties, candidates), all spent in a matter of few months compared to the year long American election campaign with a total spend of Rs 8000 crore.
I was in college when Mr Prannoy Roy was asked to deliver a guest lecture about Indian democracy and though I do not remember most of the details, I remember his constant iteration that for Indians Democracy is in our DNA. It is so much intertwined as a part of our very existence that we don’t value it or pay any heed to it nor acknowledge it. Hence when I hear people talking about how India would have done better with a totalitarian leadership, I wonder whether it is because of their frustration with the slow speed and the red tape of the Indian bureaucracy or the corruption of the political class or an admiration for the Chinese government for the single minded purpose with which its drives reforms or a vague romanticizing of a benevolent dictator who will push development on one side and maintain peace, harmony, civic sense and equitable wealth distribution on the other.
There are again many who argue that presidential form of government and not a parliamentary form of government is better suited for India. I will not get into the advantages and disadvantages of each, but just mention that while the constitution was being drafted there was enough discussion on which system of government should India have and the committee decided on Parliamentary system because it would be better equipped with handling the diversity of India. And in a situation where many Asian countries with Presidential form of Government are finding it difficult to maintain democracy, I guess somewhere the vision of the Dr B R Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru has been vindicated. It is sad that our history books do not discuss the evolution of the democratic culture in India but rather get into technical details like what is the qualification required for a Block Development Officer or the minimum number of members required for a bill to get passed and hence as students we tend to miss the wood for the trees.
The Indian State is like a giant wheel- a juggernaut. But once it starts rolling in the right direction it takes more than a few vested interests to change the direction. It is very difficult for one political party to make India communal. Nor is it easy for one leader to turn India into a dictatorship.
I think somewhere educated Indians have become too critical of India. I recently watched a very interesting documentary by Michael Moore. Set in the backdrop of a gun shoot out in a school, the documentary – Bowling for Columbine tries to find an answer to the deep rooted fear and gun culture in America. One of the most interesting revelations of the movie was a bank putting an advertisement in the local newspaper about giving free guns to those opening accounts in the bank. Michael Moore in his typical investigative style walks in and finds the bank storing more than 500 types of gun. I think each society has a problem which is unique to its own. And while we may not find bullets being sold in a local supermarket, we will find lots of poverty and slums outside the supermarket. And it our responsibility to solve this.