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Chaitanya Kalbag

The author is former Editor, Reuters Asia, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindustan Times, and Editor of Business Today

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Democracy On Display

The numbers are stupendous; will the results take our breath away too?

Photo Credit : PTI

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The numbers are numbing.  About 900 million Indians will be eligible to vote in this general election, and as The Hindu noted, this is more than the electorate in 36 of the world’s democracies combined. It is nearly eight per cent more than the 834 million eligible voters in 2014.  In 2014, 66.44 per cent of the electorate chose to vote. Will that number go up this time in our divided land?

The numbers are stupefying. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been speaking at mammoth rallies. Think of the ecosystem of an election meeting. Thousands of buses and trucks bring in lakhs of people.  They are shepherded into enclosures with rough fences. Then there is the dais, with its flags, bunting and flowers, the huge public-address system with kilometres of cables and dozens of loudspeakers.  Hundreds of police personnel are deployed.  Hawkers sell water, tea, and snacks. All this is only for one political party among the many fighting in that area.  The Election Commission says an average of 15 parties contested in each parliamentary constituency in 2014; the maximum was 42 in one constituency.

Democracy is an all-consuming avocation in our nation.  In 2014, besides six national parties and 39 recognised state parties, another 419 fought for space on our lawmakers’ benches.  Only 36 of them were represented in the Lok Sabha (meaning they won at least one seat). A total of 8,251 candidates threw their hats in the ring, paying a security deposit of between Rs.12,500 (for reserved Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe constituencies) and Rs.25,000 for general constituencies. A whopping 7,000 of them forfeited their deposits because they did not get even one-sixth of the votes cast in their constituencies.  But this is not going to daunt politicians this time around.  Over 1,800 parties had registered with the Election Commission by 2015. We will know the final number of candidates in 2019 only after nominations for the seventh and final round are accepted by the EC.

How are women doing? In 2014 a total of 668 women contested, only eight per cent of the total, for the 543 Lok Sabha seats. Only 62 won – 11.4 per cent. Gilles Verniers, Co-Director of the Trivedi Centre for Political Data at Ashoka University, told me that of the 957 candidates declared by major parties and their allies until March 31, only 127 or 13.3 per cent were women. Both the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress say they want to field at least 33 per cent women candidates, but seem certain to fall short.  On the other hand, women voters are turning out in record numbers. EC data show that more than 260 million women lined up to cast their votes in 2014, not too far short of about 293 million men. An analysis by IndiaSpend says only the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal seem serious about nominating a third or more of women candidates.

Ninety-one Lok Sabha constituencies will go to the polls on April 11 in the first phase of voting in this general election.  PRS Legislative Research says among the candidates are 53 sitting MPs.  Only four of the 53 are women. One of them, the Shiv Sena’s Bhavana Patil, is trying for a fifth term, and two are hoping to win third terms.


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