Friday, May 15, 2009

India Election

Indian general election is over. For the first time in the history of Republic of India, results would be available by the switch of the button than by the opening of the ballot boxes.

Manual counting of votes had its own share of fun and suspense. Results would trickle in after every round of counts that would swing the pendulum from one side to another. Some results, often from south be announced by late noon while some from Bihar would still be on the way even though new govt would have announced.

This time 100 million out of 700 million electorate are first time voters. That is 7% of the electorate. What an irony! These youngsters have to choose between 80-year-old Mr. Advani of BJP and 77-year-old Mr Manmohan Singh of Congress. Places where these two parties are not strong they have another regional parties headed by 85 year old Mr Karunanidhi in Tamil Nadu and 82 year old Mr Badal in Punjab .

I am relieved that this election had no bomb blasts, terrorist attacks, kidnapping or booth capturing. Election commission of India is one of the few govt organizations that have since the days of Mr Sheshan has secured immense credibility and they are doing such an amazing job.

Two aspects of India election do bother me. First aspect is, not providing an option for almost 20 million Non Resident Indians to vote. With the entire regional passport offices well integrated with database of all NRIs, it is not difficult to make them participate in the election through embassy or internet ballot like the one they do it for defense forces and govt officials on election duty. This would also eliminate malpractice of using NRI names to indulge in bogus voting. There is another option of creating 3-4 constituencies representing various regional presence of NRIs proportionate to population density. A second aspect is about forcing an election day as a compulsory holiday. Making a compulsory holiday is bringing the wheels of an economy to standstill for a full day for an activity that does not take more than 2 hours. With an election spanning five days over a month, each part of India is paralyzed for a day. Add to this election of assembly, corporation and by-elections. The number could add to double digits. Despite all this compulsory holiday exercise, result is 40-50% voting. Why can't govt penalize the non-voters as they do in Australia? They could also penalize the local corporation if an eligible voter is not listed in the voter registry. With this, at least they could recoup the part of the election expenses.

Elections in India are always entertaining and fascinating with the complex variables that make winners out of improbable conditions. Caste, Religion, money, liquor, muscle power, creative advertising, public speaking all add to the glamor.

Some of the veteran politicians like Sharad Pawar feel the heat of youth and are candid enough to admit unpredictable surprises that this election results would throw. 100 million first time voters could swing the balance that no political party or election analysts could imagine. However, the imbroglio that would ensue, a much younger person may emerge than ripe old PM aspirants.

Would that be Mayawati, Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi, Prakash Karat , Nitish Kumar or Sharad Pawar ? Suspense will unfold on May 16th.

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