Indian elections and world opinion

Harsha Kakar
The fourth round of polling of India’s parliamentary elections, marking the crossing of midway of the election process has just concluded. As per inputs approximately 970 million Indians, about 10 percent of the global population,were eligible to cast their votes. This is higher than the combined population of the US and Europe. Indian elections involve over 15 million polling staff, 5.5 million voting machines and around 11 lakh polling booths.
Conducting elections in seven phases over 6-7 weeks is to enable deployment of security personnel to ensure free and fair polls, sans violence, as also movement of polling staff to remote locations. There have been no major violent incidents, claims of rigging, ballot box stuffing and falsifying data, as happens in many nations, including the US.
Clearly, Indian elections are the world’s biggest democratic exercise and closely watched, especially as India is an influential global player.The US considers India as ‘the single most important country for it for the next 35 years.’ Thus, who comes to power would determine the path India would take in global affairs.
Many global entities, institutions and governments have their preferences on who should come to power in Delhi, all for their own benefit. Some western nations abhor a government which is strong and challenges their diktats, while some back the current regime for support it provided during calamities.
Hence, there are brazen attempts to influence Indian elections, few directly, largely indirectly.Even PM Modi highlighted this when he mentioned, ‘I can see that there is an attempt that the world is trying to influence our elections.They are not just giving their opinions but trying to influence our elections, but they will not be successful.People of India will not get influenced.’Nations commenting on India would classify similar comments as interference.
Globally, anti-Modi headlines are on the rise. Bloomberg headlined, ‘Modi is making India’s election all about himself.’TIME magazine published an article titled, ‘Modification of India is almost complete,’ while the Guardian headlined, ‘India’s election: fixing a win by outlawing dissent, damages democracy.’ The New York Times had an article titled, ‘Modi’s Temple of Lies.’ The Deutsche Welle mentioned, ‘Will the outcome of India’s election increase intolerance.’
The arrest of Kejriwal and Income Tax notice to the Congress led to western media mentioning that the current leadership is ‘terrorizing’ its opponents. Another classic example of interference is Canada insisting almost daily on India’s involvement in the killing of Hardeep Nijjar without any evidence. Similar comments from India would be termed as interference in Canadian elections.
Jaishankar commenting on the western press’s criticism of India mentioned, ‘These are our domestic politics which is going global,’ adding, ‘they will question your election system, your EVM, your election commission, even the weather (in which elections are being conducted).’
The world ignores the fact that India is in a neighbourhood where democracy has been tarnished. In Bangladesh, the main opposition party boycotted polls, claiming failure to nominate a caretaker government, resulting in an unfair advantage to the ruling party. In Myanmar, the army overthrew a democratically elected government.China, India’s other neighbour, is an autocracy.
In Pakistan, Rawalpindi openly rigged elections to ensure Imran Khan’s PTI does not emerge victorious. He remains behind bars on trumped up charges. The Pak army determines who occupies the PM’s chair. No nation criticized Pakistan for trampling democracy, largely because it is a global non-entity as also Washington and Beijing do not desire the return of Imran.
Promises, freebies and chest thumping has always been part of Indian elections. Also is accusing the opposing party of wrongdoings and biases. Most of what is promised in run-up to elections is rarely fulfilled, however draws votes. The intent of political parties across all democracies is to win power, for which everything is fair. The US and Europe, who criticize Indian democracy, are even a stage worse.
Rural India has historically voted on religion, caste and creed basis resulting in political parties choosing their candidates accordingly. Another accusation is of the ruling party poaching members of their opponents prior to elections. Realistically, politics is a career like any other. Individuals jump across political lines if it is to their advantage. Ideology means little to most politicians and changes depending on which party they join.
As in all nations, funds are essential for fighting elections. For all political parties, these come through multiple means, not all being honest or legal. The reality is that there are no free lunches.Those providing donations to a political party would seek something in return, in case the party does gain a stronghold. Weak political parties are unlikely to have many financers. With limits on spending and the requirement to submit detailed expenditure reports, there is an attempt to curb wasteful spending and bribing voters. However, these are often bypassed.
India has moved onto EVMs, while most of the western world continues with ballot papers. There are almost no reports of rigging of EVMs, while claims of fraud in US elections continue being investigated even years after their conduct.
Never in India has an outgoing incumbent obstructed democratic transfer of power by asking his supporters to violently oppose election results as Trump did in the US. Yet, Indian democracy is flawed, while that of the US is pure. The western press needs to get its act together and look inwards rather than just point fingers.
The fact is, every nation has its own peculiarities, within the broad ambit of democracy. All cannot be compared on a common yardstick. Similarly, levels of education, comprehension, hopes and desires of the populace in each nation is different, compelling politicians to adopt innovative strategies to garner votes. Criticizing India, solely because its system of elections is not similar to the west is poor understanding.
What is essential for the globe to comprehend is that elections in India are a mammoth exercise. Conducting them without major incidents or accusations of misconduct is incredible. Election workers, in places, trek across glaciers, deserts and jungles to make sure every eligible Indian can vote. Yet, there are negligible reports of vote tampering or voter fraud as in the US.
The world needs to applaud Indian democracy rather than invent faults within it.
The author is Major General (Retd)