Elections in the world’s biggest democracy for the 16th Lok Sabha ended on Monday with the highest ever voter turnout of 66.38%, bettering the previous record of 64.01% in 1984. This gigantic exercise had begun on March 5 with the announcement of the elections, which saw 55.13 crore out of 83.05 crore Indians voting.
For these elections, the Election Commission (EC) incurred a massive expenditure of Rs 3426 crore. In comparison, it had spent Rs 1483 crore on the 2009 general elections.
The EC credits several steps it took to increase awareness and record a massive 8% increase in voter turnout over the 2009 figures of 58.19%. “Our aim was to sensitise the public and get the maximum electors to come out to vote. A large amount of money was spent for this purpose through the Systematic Voter’s Education and Electoral Participation programmes implemented by the commission on a war footing. , “said Akshay Rout, director general of the Election Commission.
To increase voter participation, the EC constituted a separate department of Elector Monitoring Division, which took charge of intimating and reminding voters to come out and cast their votes through various methods.
Massive preparations went into making the 2014 elections successful, and free and fair. These included the mobilisation of nearly 2.2 lakh personnel of the central paramilitary forces, employing 719 expenditure observers taken from the IRS and Customs, and deputing 11,123 flying squads and 10,425 static surveillance teams. Over 25,000 campus ambassadors were also roped in to increase awareness among the youth.
In this process, the Election Commission created two Guinness Book of World records: the maximum pledges to come out and vote, and maximum “Thank You” messages in a day for participating in the democratic exercise.
The 15 centres of the Central Board for Direct Taxes (CBDT) spread across the country were asked to keep a constant watch at airports for Hawala dealers, cash couriers and brokers to check the play of black money.
However, despite the massive precautions, the EC at times failed to provide a level playing field for all candidates, as various political parties and leaders openly flouted rules, violated the model code of conduct, intimidated voters and used money power to influence them.
The EC managed to seize Rs 313 crore in cash, 2.25 lakh litres of liquor and 1.85 lakh kg of drugs, but officials concede this could be a small percentage of what was actually traded by the candidates during the polls.
A low point of the elections was the shrill political campaigns that vitiated the atmosphere by trying to divide the voters on issues of caste and religion. But an exasperated poll watchdog could not do much besides admonishing political leaders by issuing them show-cause notices and, in the process, being blamed of being timid, biased, ruthless and extra-constitutional.
However, despite all these shortcomings, the elections keep up the hopes high for a vibrant Indian democracy as it proved to be a watershed mark in several ways. For the first time, women came out in large numbers and scored over men in at least 16 states and union territories (UTs). States like Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Odisha and Bihar saw greater women’s participation than men’s.
At least seven states and UTs witnessed voter turnouts as high as and beyond 80%. The middle classes in the metro cities voted in large numbers as well, and many places broke previous records of voter turnouts, which included Delhi and Mumbai.