It’s a remarkable exercise undertaken, one-of-a-kind in the world – the Indian General Elections. In less than a month, on April 7, the nine-phase Battle for the Hustings – some say this is the longest election in the country’s history – will begin. More than 800 million people will head to more than 800,000 polling stations and use more than 1.3 million electronic voting machines to cast votes for more than 1,300 political parties. This is not to say that all parties are on every ballot, but that most of them are local or regional, indicative of their significant sway in a country, which has had coalition governments since 1984, that is, for three decades now.
Understandably, global media takes a keen interest when India goes to polls. According to Forbes International, the Indian General Elections are the “world's most complex management exercise”, costing the government about $600 million.
The Diplomat of the Asia Pacific, while calling the general elections the “largest democratic event in history”, says: “This, however, is not the only record that will be broken when the world’s largest democracy goes to the polls… Indian politicians will spend as much as $4.9 billion during the electoral contest, which will end in May. The estimate makes this year’s general elections the second most expensive of all time, behind only the 2012 US presidential campaign in which, according to the US Presidential Commission, $7 billion was spent.”
The world media has taken note of the sheer scale of the electoral exercise. Almost two-thirds of India’s 1.3 billion people are eligible to vote – 100 million more than in 2009 – and 96 per cent of these have already been equipped with electoral ID cards. In nine polling days spread across five weeks, the world’s largest electorate will visit lakhs of polling booths to cast their votes using millions of EVMs. The 11 million personnel, including members of the Army, deployed, apart from 5.5 million civilians, who will be employed to manage the voting process, has also drawn a sigh of wonder from rest of the world.
Understandably, world media has taken note of the inherent issues that always dog the diversity of this vast nation. According to Andrew Buncombe of The Independent of the UK, “Any election in India is a window into the vastness and diversity of a country that spans from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu, and from Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh. It is also a snapshot of its often painful fault lines – the enduring power of caste, of religious divisions and of lives scarred by dire, wretched poverty despite there being more millionaires here than anywhere else on the planet.”
The media in the US has swung from being awestruck to wonderstruck by the scale of exercise the Lok Sabha Elections 2014. On the one hand, the Time magazine describes the elections as “the insanely huge and complex exercise”, on the other hand, the Wall Street Journal calls the “juggernaut” as “one of the most significant elections in decades – a contest between a weakened secular left and a resurgent right with Hindu nationalist roots”.
Significantly, in the India Realtime blogpost, WSJ, goes on to say that “the battle for the electoral supremacy is an evolving process in India and this time, the added opportunity of social media reach and mobile Internet penetration means more power in the hands and thumbs of the Indian voter than ever before”.
The world media is also looking at the merits of an electoral exercise of this magnitude with a fine comb. That India’s has brought itself in the world’s centre stage across myriad issues ranging from development to social issues to addressing the environment is visibly clear from the media’s outright view.
www.realclearworld.com has highlighted that India is ahead of even many developed countries in the use of electronic technology for elections. In the article ‘India 2014: The Mother of all Elections’, the portal points out that all voting is by EVMs, with each candidate’s name and their party’s election symbol appearing on the machines; electoral rolls are fully computerised and have been localised as per the language-use in each state; and, voters for the first time have the choice to express their disapproval of all the candidates by pressing the NOTA (none of the above) button on the voting machines.
Further, www.worldwatch.org has taken note of the close connection between the country’s climate policy and the choices of parties thrown up these general elections. The portal of the Worldwatch Institute, which delves into the need for sustainable solutions across the globe, points out that it is “perhaps for the first time in India’s election history, both Congress and the BJP – the two leading contenders – give fairly significant mention to climate change and the environment in their manifestos”.
Huff Post’s Connor Ryan finds not too many crucial issues on the table this election season in India. According to him, the election is going to be more about “India’s future than its present… a nation-wide referendum on the INC’s past 10 years and if a man like (Narendra) Modi ought to lead the world largest democracy, which has a sizeable Muslim minority”.
It is interesting to note that it was Huff Post, which was one of the first entities to raise concerns about the unholy connect between the Indian media and the forthcoming Lok Sabha Elections 2014. In an article by Committee to Protect Journalists’ Asia programme research associate Sumit Galhotra, the news and opinion site had pointed out that “recent developments raise questions about the quality and quantity of independent news coverage of the polls as local media come under greater political influence”.
As India gets ready for the elections to constitute the 16th Lok Sabha, a look at the headlines of the reports, and opinion and analysis pieces filed across world media indicate the relevance and importance attached to the gargantuan exercise. And it’s not just about maintaining a steady eye and alert ears on the on-goings in the largest, if not the oldest, democracies. For, the world press is trying to understand the fallout of the elections – Will it throw up a party that’s hesitantly accepted across the globe? Will the process throw up some bitter realities? Will the opportunities in one of the most growth-oriented corners of the world remain the same or will they shrink? Will the new government be a regime that provides a level-playing and opportune arena for investors, or not?
Even as pre-poll surveys and analyses continue to waiver within the country (because we ourselves can’t read the fast-shifting winds of mass choice!), India must take note of the world’s eye on it. Particularly the parties, which must remember the spotlight the nation is under.