Jharkhand: Games the Election Commission plays

Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora flanked by Election Commissioners Ashok Lavasa (L) and Sunil Chandra during a press conference regarding Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly Elections, at Election Commission in New Delhi. (PTI Photo)

The announcement of the assembly poll schedule for Jharkhand by the Election Commission has again raised the issue of the long duration of the poll exercise, as in the case of some other recent elections. Elections will be held in the state in five phases starting on November 30 and the results will be announced on December 23. There is a gap of four-six days between the different dates of polling, and the results will be declared three weeks after the first day of polling. The model code of conduct has come into effect with the announcement. The BJP is in power in the state in alliance with a minor partner, the All Jharkhand Students’ Union. 

The stretching of elections over such a long period is not warranted in a small state like Jharkhand. It has only 81 constituencies, and according to the schedule, fewer than 20 of them will vote on each polling day. Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora has said that the commission decided to spread out the poll process because Jharkhand is a Naxal-affected state. But the central and state governments have claimed that Naxalism has declined in the state. The Lok Sabha election in April-May did not witness any serious incidents of violence and disruption of polls by the Naxalites. There were only four phases of polling for the Lok Sabha elections. The state recorded a voter turnout of about 67%, almost on par with the national average and more than the turnout in peaceful states like Rajasthan and Punjab. Maharashtra, a bigger state with many Naxalite pockets, had single-phase polling last month for its 288 seats. 

According to poll officials, the strength of security forces is the criterion for deciding the duration of the poll process. Jharkhand has a high concentration of forces, and since no elections are being held in other states, security forces can easily be moved from other places to the state. So, the threat from Naxalites and the need for higher security are not convincing reasons for extending the poll process. A long campaign period usually helps the ruling party and the party which has more resources than others. It happens to be the BJP. The commission has staggered elections over a long period and irrationally in the recent past, even inviting criticism that it did so to facilitate campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in more areas. It is also unfair to keep the people waiting for the results for a long period after they have voted. It should have been the commission's effort to hold the elections efficiently in as short a time as possible, without giving room for suspicions and criticism.

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