Where elections are a festival of democracy

By Sridhar Subramaniam

In India, life itself is a celebration. The fundamental character or the spirit of this culture is celebration. It is actually a way of life. Throughout the year we have festivals and there is never a dull moment. People wade thorough the rough and tumble of life with fortitude while rejoicing during its festivals. There is song and dance and a riot of colour in everything that this culture does.

The Great Indian Elections or the Festival of Democracy would be no exception. It will be colourful “kaleidoscopical” spectacle.

General Elections this time in India will be a long-drawn process stretching from 19th April to 1st June to elect the 543 members of the 18th Lok Sabha. The elections will be held in Seven Phases and the results will be announced on 4 June 2024.This will be the largest ever election in the world surpassing the 2019 Indian General Election and will be longest held general elections with a span of 44 days.

The incumbent Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Damodardas Modi who completed a second term will be contesting for a third consecutive term and if he wins, he will be one of the longest serving “elected” Prime Ministers of Independent India and by all accounts he will, if we go by the indications on the ground and the mood of the nation.

For the 2024 election, 968 million people are eligible to vote, an increase of about 150 million from the 2019 election. Out of the 1.4 billion people about 960 million individuals are eligible to participate in the elections which are expected to span a month for completion. The legislative assembly elections for Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim will be held simultaneously with the general election, along with the bye election for 35 seats among 16 states.

Modi under the BJP are starting their campaign for the third term from a position of strength. His notable achievements are the Abrogation of Article 370 and paving the way for the integration of Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir and the UT of Ladakh with the national mainstream. Under his leadership the overall economy grew to be larger than France and the UK and will soon pip Japan and Germany around the bend to become the third largest economy after the US and China. Successfully conducted the G20 meet and also established India as the undisputed leader of the Global South. India developed indigenous vaccines in the shortest time. It turned adversity during Covid into an opportunity. It not only vaccinated its population but also extended a helping hand to neighbouring nations by providing vaccines through the Vaccine Maitri Scheme. Construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya as part of its poll promise. Giving a thrust to Digitalisation and unveiling the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) has revolutionised the way Indians do their financial transactions and has paved the way for a cashless economy. Infrastructure development is also being pursued on a war footing and there is visible transformation of the landscape for all to see in terms of highways and other projects.

If he is ushered in for the third consecutive term, we can expect India to play a leadership role to restructure the world order which is reminiscent of the post-World War II milieu. India will stake its claim for a Permanent Seat in the Security Council or forge alliances which are epi-centred in India with strategic linkages. Infrastructure push will reach great heights. We can also expect big ticket reforms, getting rid of archaic laws which have been bottlenecks and impediments for growth and measures to usher in seamless growth for the next 25 years (Amrit Kaal)—India 75 to 100!

The INDI Alliance was cobbled together with the regional parties by the Congress with the principal aim of unseating Modi but they seem to be in a disarray working at cross purposes with each other. Arriving at a consensus for its PM face has been proving elusive for the alliance. Many alliance partners are battling corruption charges. Also lacking is a viable game plan and articulated concrete measures to address various issues facing the country. Their strategy or lack of it is glaring and its stymied response pales in comparison to the vibrant Vikasith Bharat push of the BJP.

The NDA or the National Democratic Alliance looks like a well- oiled machine with a clear developmental focus to propel India to great heights.It augers well for states to align itself with this larger purpose so that they can also script the growth story together. Representation and being in sync with the Centre is a “sine qua non” which will give the much needed impetus to the developmental agenda. If the states grow, the country grows. It is time to cast aside the established and antediluvian bad practices that has not taken the country anywhere the last 70 odd years and give a thrust to nation building with renewed dedication and vigour.

Modi has given a rallying cry to cruise through to power this time. Iss Baar 400 Char Sau Paar. The battle cry is to garner 400 seats in Parliament this time. He is also very bullish to capture the South of India and has been going about with a missionary zeal to make inroads and consolidate its position here, where BJP has been a fringe player barring Karnataka. He has found an amazing lieutenant in K. Annamalai who with his Enn Mann Enn Makkal (My Soil, My People) padayatra of all the assembly constituencies in TN, has galvanized the cadres, enthused the electorate and has turned BJP into a potent force for the LS campaign but also getting BJP ready for the 2026 TN Assembly elections where he is  seeking  to replace the incumbent DMK government and provide an alternative to usher in development in the state. In fact, the ruling party in TN has gone on the back foot unable to counter Annamalai’s onslaught.

Across India, the BJP is also unleashing Stree Shakti, a legion of strong women, strategically in various constituencies across India. They will, it is hoped, with their firepower help BJP romp home to a resounding victory. Smriti Irani in Amethi (UP), Kompella Madhavilatha in Hyderabad (Telangana),Kangana Ranaut in Mandi in Himachal Pradesh, Basuri Swaraj (New Delhi), Rekha Patra, the Sandesh Khali protestor in Basirhat in West Bengal, Rajmata Amrita Roy from Krishnanagar in West Bengal and Navneet Rana from Amaravati in Maharashtra.

The Indian Election is unique and captivates the world on account of its sheer scale, diversity and democratic vibrancy. It would be of interest to note that extra efforts are being taken to ensure the participation of women and other gender votes. Special arrangements like the pink and rainbow booths are being introduced to ensure participation and safety. Pink Booths are run entirely by female staff which include presiding officers, polling officers, micro- observers and security personnel.

Another first is that rainbow booths have come up for the benefit of the LGBTQ+ community. The booth has been painted in seven colours of the rainbow used to represent the LGBTQ+ community across the world. The first such booth was set up in Kanker district of Chattisgarh during the Assembly polls held in November 2023.

The elections will also accord top priority to specially abled and elderly voters, with arrangements like ramps and wheelchair access at polling stations. All this inclusivity underscores India’s commitment to ensure that the citizens can exercise their right to vote, which is their fundamental right.

India is a sub-continent, and its topography presents its own challenges to the Election Commission. You have plains, plateaus, snow clad mountains and dense forests. Poll Officials have used bullock carts, boats and even elephants in a few instances to access remote places. The election machinery reaches every nook and cranny to set up polling stations, showcasing the country’s logistical prowess and expertise.

As mentioned earlier, elections in India can rightfully be called a Festival of Democracy as a carnival atmosphere prevails and poll rallies and campaigns bring out a celebratory mood across the country. Elections are marked by colourful posters, banners, buntings, wall paintings and graffiti. Songs, Slogans and Jingles fill the air as political parties try to woo the electorate and appeal to the social, cultural sentiments and psyche of the general public. Large than life cut-outs of leaders also tower over the town centre beckoning the populace to come out and vote and usher in their favourite candidate or party to power.

Social media and technology has been put to good use to influence public opinion. In fact, we saw during Prime Minister Modi’s recent visit to the Southern States AI (artificial intelligence) was used to translate in real time Modi’s address which was in Hindi to Southern languages. Parties have been extensively leveraging these tools for better voter outreach, propaganda and real-time monitoring. India by virtue of it being in the Information Age has embraced digitalisation wholeheartedly and it has used these tools with elan to streamline and enhance its democratic process.

India has changed so much and will continue to change and it is fascinating to witness the evolution of India. The biased western perceptions have to change also. India was called a land of snake charmers and one US Ambassador JK Galbraith also called it a functioning anarchy. Perceptions must change to truly reflect the situation on the ground or else there won’t be any takers!

(The views expressed are personal and belong to those of the writer)

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