Arunachal Pradesh toughest for holding polls

Itanagar, Apr.22: Surrounded by three countries, crisscrossed by numerous perennial rivers, and with seasonal snowfall, recurring floods and landslides, Arunachal Pradesh poses the toughest challenges among all the states for conducting elections about which Election Commission of India has hardly any idea.

From using elephants, boats and choppers besides humans in the past for poll duties, Arunachal is still a ‘land of chaang (thatched houses), chur (local beer) and chopper’ despite the fast-changing times.

Do the Delhiwalas know:

That the state where resources, including manpower, security personnel and vehicles are scarce, communication a hazard, and altitude a problem offers unpredictable problems?

That, spread in tough geographical area in 83,743 sq km, it poses great communication hazards with weather playing truant every minute?

That polling stations meant for very few voters – for two at Malogaon in Anjaw district, for instance – along the Indo-China border are mostly located in far-flung inaccessible areas which can be reached either by chopper or after trekking for days?

That when telecommunication system goes haywire, bad weather prohibits even the movement of porters and makes helicopters useless?

That Arunachalees, with their constitutional tribal rights, do not compromise with their rights?

That the judiciary is yet to be fully bifurcated from the executive while the village councils or the Gaon Burah Institution commands unchallenged power?

That there are only 7, 53, 150 voters (Total population 13 lakh) spread in the thinly populated state? Total poll personnel, including security personnel engaged are 30,000 while the strength of regular GoAP employees is 49,000, including women, which means that every single employee has to work for election?

Despite numerous problems, the state’s election machinery, which was ready only to conduct Lok Sabha polls, geared up to hold simultaneous polls to the assembly, too, overcoming massive hurdles and did it with aplomb.

There were only 63 poll related incidents against 191 in 2009 Lok Sabha and assembly polls while about 30 booths would go for re-polling against 48 booths – 34 (assembly) and 14 (Lok Sabha) – in 2009.

The strict enforcement of the model code of conduct yielding huge seizures including over Rs 4.4 crore cash proved democracy is getting strengthened. But there was no kudos from any quarter. All said and done, the polls reportedly witnessed elections frauds, like snatching away and damaging electronic voting machines (EVMs), booth capturing, kidnapping poll officials, double voting, impersonation, money and muscle power demonstrating the darker side of democracy and sending a louder wrong message about the predominantly tribal society known for its peace loving nature.

Let any voter choose any one belonging to any party. When it is the people to decide why one resorts to violence or damage the EVMs or attack any poll official? Will it bring any solution as election would remain a permanent feature as long as the world’s largest democracy (India) survives on earth? The need of the hour is to have complete trust in the system with the “Law is supreme”.

No political gimmick by any leader or party could do miracle for a change till the vote is valued by the voters. This has to come from the people, of the people and by the people for the democracy to prove its supremacy for the people to be the real masters! In an article ‘Why India is so good at organizing elections’, The Economist wrote: India’s general election is a massive affair. From April 7 to May 12, across seven phases, 815 million people will be eligible to cast votes in the biggest democratic exercise on earth.

How can India get the electoral process to work so well when much else is done so badly? … For all its cost and complications, it is expected to go smoothly. Political parties my break limits on what they spend, but elections in India are broadly clean, in the sense that the results are not rigged. One answer is that elections are narrowly focused tasks of limited duration that are regularly repeated.

Where similar condition hold, bureaucrats prove similarly successful. One example is the 10-yearly national census; a newer success is a scheme to build the world’s largest biometric database, which has enrolled some 400 million people, scanning their eyes, fingerprints and more. (Whether this data will be put to good use is another matter. It is worth nothing, that much work was done by private contractors overseen by public officials.)

The second answer is that state employees respond well when given tasks of great prestige and put under careful public scrutiny. Thus India’s space agency last year launched a spaceship to Mars which continues on course, for a remarkably small budget. Similarly, public health officials recently announced that India had eradicated polio.

A third answer is that bureaucrats succeed when free from political meddling and corruption. The Election Commission, like the Reserve Bank of India, is independent. And whereas policemen spend much of their time collecting bribes to pay their superiors, election officials have neither big budgets to divert, nor much opportunity to extract bribes.

It is harder for politicians to meddle and steal when bureaucrats, like election officials, are under intense public scrutiny. Extending the country’s Right to Information law, however embarrassing the rot that has been exposed, has proved immensely valuable.

Last, bureaucrats become efficient, and less corrupt, when they lose discretionary powers. Those who organize elections have no discretion to decide who is allowed to vote or where; they are only supposed to ensure it all works efficiently, leaving little incentive for people to bribe or bully them.

Whoever wins this year’s election could do worse than look at the electoral process itself as a model of how to sharpen up India’s bureaucracy? By Pradeep Kumar (ANI)