Peaceful election doesn't mean fair poll, says ex-CEC

Peaceful election doesn't mean fair poll, says ex-CEC

Peaceful election doesn't mean fair poll, says ex-CEC

Peaceful elections do not necessarily mean fair elections as there could be rigging, said former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), S Y Quraishi.

He was addressing a gathering at the The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) on Wednesday at the launch of his 418-page book, “An undocumented wonder - The making of a great Indian election.” The book, which narrates the Herculean exercises carried out to make the Indian elections happen and many interesting stories associated with the polls, will hit the stores soon.

Quraishi said there were instances where the polls were peaceful but rigged. He cited the example of a poll in West Bengal where a curfew-like situation prevailed when a political party threatened people not to venture out to cast their votes. Fearing for their life, people remained indoors.

The former CEC said the country has 814 million voters, which is as big as putting at least 90 countries together including the entire Europe and some South American nations.
“Not only population but also in terms of diversity, holding an election of Indian size is a big challenge. We have 22 different religions, various castes and sub-castes and the problem of militancy,” he added.

Quraishi said the country had set up 9.3 lakh polling stations across the country and employed 12 million people to conduct the polls. There are 1,670 registered parties, of them six are recognised as national parties.

Recalling the first poll in the early 50s, Quraishi said it was a big challenge given the fact that 84 per cent of the population was illiterate.

“This year, the elections were held in nine phases. But the first polls were held in 68 phases given the limited resources. The whole world wondered at our decision to go democratic since India had just faced Partition and religious and casteist biases were severe.”

“To further complicate things, there were 565 princely states. But from the Day One of our decision to choose democracy, we provided equal rights to men and women. This could happen in 150 years after the US got independence and 100 years after the United Kingdom opted for a democratic system. For the biggest democratic event of Indian size, the former US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, called our elections of global gold standard,” said Quraishi.

He maintained that five years ago, the Election Commission of India took the decision to give equal voting rights to transgenders by categorising them as ‘Others’, besides ‘Male’ and ‘Female’.

He presented some interesting facts about the Indian elections where a polling station was set up for a lone voter, a temple priest in the Gir forest.

“The ECI norms say that no voters should travel more than 2 km to cast the vote. So we had to set up the polling booth. Our team travelled several kilometres to set up the booth there, waiting for him from 7 am, although we knew that he would come only after 2 pm, after having lunch.

They remained there till 5 pm to give chance to anyone coming up with a claim that the lone voter is not the actual voter,” said Quraishi, amid bursts of laughter.
He added that when one such lone voter in Kerala died recently, a newspaper carried an article with the title, ‘Death of a polling station’.

He said the electoral roll in Bangalore was always in a mess despite the City being the IT Capital of India. The CEC had to come down to the City to put the roll in order and to give a dressing-down to several people for the mess. He reminded the voters of Bangalore that the poor voter turnout always favours criminals, given the fact that 30 per cent of the politicians fielded this time are criminals.

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