The massive Indian election is over with the ruling Congress party utterly routed, winning perhaps just 60 seats in the 543-seat parliament. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leader Narendra Modi have swept into power with possibly 350 seats, a clean majority that will enable them to govern that sprawling country without having to form a coalition.
The scale of the election is what is truly impressive. The country has 814 million eligible voters, many in remote rural areas. To reach them, voting is held over five weeks with election workers going successively from region to region to try and reach as many voters as possible and maximize the use of their resources. In the end about 550 million or 66.4% of the voters cast ballots.
The country goes to extraordinary lengths to enable people to vote.
Nearly 1 million polling stations will be set up — all with electronic voting machines. Eleven million poll officials and security force members will be deployed. For the first time voters will have the option to cast their ballot for “none of the above.”
But India’s election is like nothing else nowhere else. Former Chief Election Commissioner Quraishi authored An Undocumented Wonder: The Making of the Great Indian Election and he says no effort is spared to reach the hundreds of millions with ballots, even if it takes elephants, camels, boats, planes or trains.
“You name it, and that is the transport we’re using. And there are some places where none of these transports will go, then polling teams have to walk.”
He says not even the lone priest living in a lion-infested forest will be left without a voting booth.
In the US where voting is so easy, under 60% of people vote even in presidential elections and in non-presidential years, the number is much lower, around 40%. This may be due to the fact that at a gut-level, people in the US realize that we are largely a one-party state that serves a ruling oligarchy and its two factions (known as the Democratic and Republican parties) differ mainly on some social issues. Those who care about those issues are the ones most likely to bother to vote.
In fact, in the US we see a huge effort by Republicans to actually suppress voting by making it harder, under the guise of preventing voter fraud, a non-issue. This is driven by their belief that by putting into place onerous rules to show eligibility and actually vote, they can discourage young and minority voters who tend to vote Democratic.
Election fraud occurs everywhere. I am sure that it occurs in Indian elections too. But unless it is blatant and on such a massive scale that the fraud is readily apparent, I suspect that it rarely affects the outcome.