About Indian Politics
What It Takes to Run an Election for India
The Election Commission of India runs the elections. A former head of the federal body explains how it is done.
As Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the scholar of India and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, aptly described it, “India is valued the world over for a great many things, but for three over others: the Taj Mahal, Mahatma Gandhi and India’s electoral democracy.” It is the 17th general election in India, being held in seven phases over 38 days. Nine hundred million Indians are registered to vote! Around 70 per cent are expected to vote. The voting age in India is 18, and 15 million are voting for the first time.
Indian elections are conducted by the Election Commission of India, a fiercely autonomous body set up by the Indian Constitution in 1950. The chief election commissioner and two election commissioners are appointed by the federal government for a term of six years or till they are 65 years of age. They are generally senior civil servants from the Indian Administrative Service.
The chief election commissioner, who heads the body, cannot be removed except by impeachment. Neither can the other two commissioners be removed except on the recommendation of chief election commissioner. The commission has a relatively small permanent staff of about 400 people at its headquarters in New Delhi and about 400 across the country
Well, we couldn’t do it alone! The commission borrows about 12 million employees from various federal and state government departments for the period of elections. You enlist senior civil servants and police officers in the top management. You get the schoolteachers, engineers, clerks, health care workers, security forces and all kinds of support staff.
Private sector employees are not involved in the process, as it would be impossible to ensure their neutrality a non-negotiable condition. For the duration of the elections, the government employees are deputed to and solely answerable to the election commission.
Over seven decades of independent India, the commission has conducted 16 elections for the lower house of the Parliament and over 360 elections for legislative assemblies of Indian states. The commission has, at times, worked in the most trying circumstances. In 1982, it had to conduct elections for the State Assembly in the northeastern state of Assam at the height of a violent agitation that had roiled the region for years. Similarly, the commission conducted several elections in Jammu and Kashmir despite the long-running violent conflict in the region.
Source: The New York Times