Elections 2014 have received worldwide praise for the peaceful transition of power in India and their smooth conduct but do you know behind their execution there was a "quietly efficient" planning that started 18 months in advance.
The sheer size of the Indian electors is mind-boggling to most outsiders--830.5 million voters, 9,00,000 polling stations, 8,000 candidates across 543 Lok Sabha constituencies in the world's largest democracy that demands involvement of men and machine of a scale unthinkable anywhere else in the world.
"This election has truly been a logistical achievement. Planning for this major event began over 18 months ago, and the Election Commission leadership was clearly focused on delivering an efficient, quiet and high quality election with minimum glitches," says a top Commission source.
The largest size of poll staff was deployed in this election--6,69,000 poll officials across 543 constituencies to be precise drawn entirely drawn from the central and state bureaucracy.
"While the election is being applauded for its efficiency, it was fully conducted by the same bureaucracy that is often criticised for slowness and delayed decision making," the source said.
Helplines were set up at the constituency level, state level and at Delhi headquarters to immediately organise raids and seize cash. This enabled seizures of cash of Rs.313 crore, 2.2 lakh litres of liquor valued at Rs.1,000 crore and 1.85 lakh kg of drugs. For the first time in the Lok Sabha polls, the Commission operated an expenditure monitoring division headed by a senior officer of income tax department.
If you wondered why there should be nine long phases to conduct the elections and whether forces cannot be made available for quick turnaround, here is the answer:
This time, by rotating forces across multiple phases, the Commission optimised the services of over 8,00,000 paramilitary personnel. Such large number of troops had to be rotated across the length and breadth of the country nine times over the nine phases of the polls via Indian Railways. Over 570 special trains were dedicated for election duty to rotate the troops. Additionally, over 50 helicopters were deployed on poll day duty, which made over 1,500 sorties.
The Commission also made innovative polling booth security management. As against an isolated state election where it could provide 100 per cent paramilitary force deployment, in a general election the same forces are deployed across the country. This makes the force availability limited to about 20-30 per cent of sensitive polling stations besides 100 per cent deployment in the Left Wing Extremism areas.
In the initial phases of this election, the Commission started taking the preferences of political parties in deploying the limited available paramilitary forces in various polling stations. This enabled political parties to feel a sense of participation in security arrangements and went a long way in retaining faith in the security arrangements, the source said.
The greatest achievement of this election has been the highest turnout in the history of Indian elections. However, this has not been achieved overnight, says the source pointing to the fact that the last 23 Assembly elections had resulted in higher turnouts. In several cases the turnouts have made records. A voter awareness programme 'SVEEP' was introduced nationwide and major celebrities were roped in as brand ambassadors. National icons like A P J Abdul Kalam and Aamir Khan greatly helped in voter awareness.
The women voters have gone up from 55 to 65 per cent which has contributed to the overall increase of the voting percentage. In 16 states and Union Territories, women recorded higher turnout than men. Success was also achieved in the area of eliminating urban apathy. The participation of urban voters has also increased significantly by between 13 per cent and 20 per cent in different mega cities and urban centres. Also for the first time, the Commission took up a special campaign for registration of voters on election eve.
It took note of the general complaint of some voters, particularly in big cities, that though they had voted in previous elections, their names were not found in the current list when they went to the voting booth. So the Commission, when it announced the election schedule on March 5, it also announced registration for filing application on the same day if voters did not find their names. Over 82 lakh applications for enrolment were filed in one single day. The Commission also put in place a special complaint management machinery.
In the last two months, the election machinery filed over 16,000 FIRs and issued 3000 paid news notices in which 700 were confirmed. This amounts to an average of 300 FIRs and 50 paid news cases each day with more than one in some constituencies. The Commission also managed to complete diligence on each complaint and directed it to its logical conclusion. Depending upon the complexity of the case, suitable investigation by field staff had been undertaken and further action was taken. Over Rs 2,000 crore worth of inducement materials were seized by expenditure management monitoring.
This election, the source said, marked the first large scale deployment of flying squads and static surveillance teams. Over 21,000 teams were deployed amounting to 40 flying squads in each parliamentary constituency. Helplines were set up at the constituency level, state level and at Delhi headquarters to immediately organise raids and seize cash. This enabled seizures of cash of Rs 313 crore, 2.2 lakh litres of liquor valued at Rs 1,000 crore and 1.85 lakh kg of drugs. For the first time in the Lok Sabha elections, the Commission operated an expenditure monitoring division headed by a senior officer of income tax department. A record 667 expenditure observers, more than one in some constituencies, were deployed in this election to monitor expenditure of candidates.