The recently concluded Indian General Election was the world’s largest democratic exercise ever. More than 606 million Indians voted out of around 900 million eligible voters.
This was the first time that the percentage of women voters equalled that of male voters. However, experts have calibrated that close to 21 million female voters are still missing from the electoral rolls. Three states, namely, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan account for more than half of them. On average, 38000 women were missing from every constituency. In Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, in each constituency, close to 80000 were missing from the electoral rolls.
Equally worrying is the Frontline magazine report that a disproportionately large proportion of voters who are left out of the electoral rolls despite having valid voter ID cards are Dalits and religious minorities. The Election Commission of India (ECI) must ensure that every adult citizen, irrespective of sex, caste and religion is included in the electoral rolls to uphold the sanctity of this humungous exercise.
According to the Centre for Media Studies, an estimated 500 billion rupees was spent in this election. With money playing such a big role, transparency on the sources of funding of political parties becomes extremely important. The introduction of electoral bonds for political funding with the stated aim of improving transparency has been challenged in the Supreme Court. The ECI has submitted in this case which is pending before the Supreme Court that this is a retrograde step and would have an enormous negative impact on transparency.
The ECI left much to be desired in its enforcement of the model code of conduct. It was unable to effectively curb campaign rhetoric that promoted enmity between different sections of the citizenry. Article 324 of the Indian constitution vests superintendence, direction and control of elections in the ECI. The ECI invoked the article to curtail campaigning in West Bengal a day before its scheduled deadline in a manner that was widely condemned. Had the ECI enforced the code of conduct consistently and fearlessly from the time the elections were announced, the situation would not have turned so volatile.
Finally, more procedural safeguards are required to restore confidence in the integrity of the voting process. The Supreme Court had directed the ECI to increase Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) verification from one to five Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in each constituency. A former President of India and a former Chief Election Commissioner have spoken about the need for the ECI to speedily and proactively issuing clarifications to citizens when they hear the news that EVMs have been tampered with or swapped after voting. The time has come to conduct a forensic audit of randomly selected EVMs from the counting centres to check for tampering and also for matching the machines used for voting by scrutinizing the unique serial numbers of the machines. Restoring the confidence of the citizen that ‘every voter counts’ is key to upholding human dignity and protecting human rights.