Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, along with Election Commissioners Ashok Lavasa (left) and Sushil Chandra (right). (Photographer: Subhav Shukla/PTI) 

#BQDebates: Is Seven-Phase Polling Schedule For Lok Sabha Elections Justified?

BloombergQuintOpinion

The Lok Sabha elections will begin on April 11 and polling would be held over seven phases through May 19, followed by counting of votes on May 23.

Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, while announcing the schedule on Sunday, said 10 lakh polling stations would be set up this time compared with nine lakh in 2014. Nearly 90 crore voters would be eligible to vote for 543 Lok Sabha constituencies.

The long schedule triggered a debate if it was warranted. BloombergQuint spoke to those who have served in key positions in government on the organisation of elections on what they make of the election exercise, and choice of phases in different states.

Don’t Know Why Political Parties Are Raising An Issue

- TS Krishnamurthy, Former Chief Election Commissioner

Elections have generally begun in the second week of April and ended before the last week of May. The same thing has been attempted here. Of course, this time there are seven phases, whereas in 2014 it was nine phases.

So long as the Election Commission is able to finalise the schedule within the framework of the constitutional requirements, I think people should not question the wisdom of the Election Commission, unless you have got proof of a mala fide.

The Supreme Court itself has said that the Election Commission has the full authority to do what it wants to ensure free-and-fair elections.

I don’t know why political parties are raising issues. I’m really surprised.

The Election Commission had visited Jammu and Kashmir and had assessed ground realities. I don’t know the full details. Ideally it would have been better to have state elections in Jammu and Kashmir, but if they had good reasons for not conducting it on security considerations, how can you question it?

Unless and until we know the full details, it’s unfair to say anything.

Unfortunately, Indian political parties are the weakest link to our democracy.

I think political parties should have a little more understanding.

Three-Phase Polling In Anantnag Is Odd

- Gopal Krishna Pillai, Former Union Home Secretary

There is nothing wrong with the dates but the only issue I have with is with places like Anantnag, where one constituency is given three phases. It is a little odd, because the candidate’s campaigning goes on in parts of the constituency, whereas, he should actually finish his campaigning throughout (in one go).

Necessary precautions should be taken to ensure that in one day, every MP’s entire constituency is completed. This is the only thing which I found a little puzzling. Normally this does not happen.       

It would have been nice if the assembly elections would have been held in Jammu and Kashmir. However, they have looked at it from pure logistics and security considerations, and they couldn’t provide adequate security for that.

This is not something exceptional, because earlier also we have had the Lok Sabha and the assembly elections being held separately in Jammu and Kashmir. 

That’s the choice they have to make on a several factors. The Election Commission always has a meeting with the Home Ministry, and the security forces, and so on, to decide the availability of forces, and how much can be spared. You can’t pull out all the forces form everywhere (for this purpose). You can’t loosen the grid for insurgency which is there in the left-wing extremist states, J&K and so on. There are limited forces which need to be rotated from one phase to the other.

Please keep in mind, that Lok Sabha elections have fewer candidates, whereas in the assembly elections there are hundreds of candidates, so security for each one of those becomes a little bit of a problem. This is the same case for left-wing extremist states.

Elections in India are a very complicated exercise and I think the Election Commission has so far done a good job.

I think you have to leave it (the manner in which to decide elections in phases) to the Election Commission, with the Home Ministry.

There are very detailed discussions with the Election Commission in terms of the allocation of forces. They always ask for more forces to ensure free-and-fair elections for both the candidates and the people. We try and stretch as much as possible, because we don’t want another terrorist incident, because we weaken the grid completely (in the process of allocating more forces for elections).

We take great pride in our elections. It is a unique system, so with all its faults, it’s a great exercise, and all kudos to the Election Commission.

Nothing Wrong With Seven Phases. Forces Need Time To Move.

- K Durga Prasad, Former CRPF Director General

There’s no secret that whenever you have to conduct elections, some of the things that go into consideration are the requirement of the force in the different states, and the availability of the force. The third is the logistics of moving the forces.

Somebody might ask why it’s not done the same way this time. This time, the number of sensitive, hyper-sensitive locations, and the number of incidents that have happened in between also have to be kept in mind.

In the first phase, people may have a little more time to stay at a place, but once the first phase starts on April 11, there are almost 45 days till May 23. They [the forces] are literally on the move every day—it may be between a state or between two states. There is nothing wrong with seven phases because it takes that much time for the forces to move from one place to another.

Last time, I remember, when we had to move forces from West Bengal to Tamil Nadu when the state polls were held, the availability of railway boogies was not adequate and, ultimately, we had to move them through air. That was difficult. And this itself was a two-day affair. This is just to highlight the logistics involved.

Generally, how it works is that in the first phase they like to take states that have the maximum trouble, because they are much more intensely fought. So, these would need a larger number of forces for a longer period.

No Explanation For Not Holding J&K State Polls

- Shailesh Gandhi, Former Central Information Commissioner

I don’t see any major problem with the dates, or the phases. I cannot see any specific significance of dates or the phases favouring any particular party.

One controversy that’s being raised is it being in the month of Ramzan. I don’t think that should be a matter of concern. In Ramzan, Muslims do go and work the whole day. They are not relaxing.

People are saying why four phases, why five, I don’t see that as an issue affecting the elections.       

From the Election Commission’s perspective, it’s a question of organising this whole thing across the nation. We do not have unlimited staff, and the Election Commission does not have special staff of its own. It’s actually borrowing government staff.

The only thing which I do find completely puzzling, and I can see no explanation for that, is why J&K has got Lok Sabha elections but no state elections.

I cannot see how having one EVM in a polling booth is okay and security can be provided, but if two EVMs were there, security cannot be provided. This appears to be, at the very least, a bizarre decision, or maybe a political decision.