Today marks the culmination of yet another successful demonstration of the strength of our democracy. Over the past few weeks, 5 states, Mizoram, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have voted for new Assemblies and there have been by-elections in 2 states, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.
The credit for this goes to the Election Commission of India, who must be congratulated for their spectacular efforts in conducting the polls. I congratulate all the officials involved in facilitating the elections and the security personnel, police forces, fire services, who worked tirelessly to ensure peaceful polling across the states. These brave women and men faced a lot of challenges from extreme weather to personal hardships but they ensured that every single citizen of our nation gets to exercise the constitutionally granted Right to Vote.
This is no small achievement when you look at the scale of efforts the EC and other officials had to undertake. The polls covered over 11 crore voters, 630 Assembly constituencies, 1.3 lakh polling booths and were spread across some of the most challenging regions of India. The terrain varied from desert areas, dense forests, hilly terrain to even bustling metropolises. Additionally, voter rolls have to be updated. To the credit of the Election Commission, the sophistication and precision they have brought in is even unheard of in any other democracy. There was near 100% coverage of Photo Electoral Rolls and coverage of Photo Identity Cards was close behind with coverage of 98.8-100% across the 5 states.
Many of my young friends may ask- what is so special about this? Having worked at the organizational level, I have witnessed many elections, from local body polls to Lok Sabha polls. The scenario not too long ago was very different. Elections would be paper based and violence was not uncommon. Phrases like ‘booth capturing’, ‘bogus voting’, ‘booth rigging’ were common election vocabulary. The Election Commission not only ensured 100% electronic voting (something which even developed nations cannot claim) but also reduced poll violence and any other form of disturbance during elections.
The biggest achievement has been seen in voter outreach, especially to young and first time voters.The result is that both voter registration and voter turnout has increased. It is no longer considered ‘cool’ not to vote and remain ambivalent to one’s surroundings. See the turnout in the Naxal affected regions of Chhattisgarh or see the turnout in Mizoram- this shows the strong faith of democracy among our people. Nothing pleases me more than seeing how engaged our citizens are in the poll process and I sincerely hope this trend continues.
I would also like to compliment the non-government groups, civil society groups, social media and corporates, who have become extremely proactive in encouraging voter registration. These are very positive steps in strengthening our democracy.
Several innovative ideas have come on how to increase voter registration. In Gujarat, we saw pioneering innovation by government officials and those from outside the government. In Panchmahal district, SVEEP (Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation) messages were given on LPG cylinders. In Ahmedabad, SVEEP messages were stamped on the doctor’s prescriptions. In Sabarkantha district all women rallies were conducted. The Panchayat Department saw if a woman was registered as a voter during marriage registration. In 2010 the Education Department released a circular asking Colleges and educational institutes to enlist eligible voters at the time of admission itself. Many more such ideas have been discussed in great detail in a comprehensive document submitted by our state election authorities to the Election Commission. I am sharing the document with you.
If you have innovative ideas and experiences on how voter registration can increase, please share the same in the comments section of this blog. I would love to read them myself and explore if they can be used further.
One of the most innovative steps taken by the EC was to celebrate 25th January as National Voters Day. It is a day when we celebrate voter registration and honour efforts of election officers through Awards. In addition to this, we should also think about honouring families of those who may have laid down their lives or suffered injury during the discharge of their duty.