March 25, 2024


Should the Lok Sabha elections have a shorter timeframe?

(Image credit: Al Jazeera English, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s an important year for electoral democracy. Among other countries, the world’s oldest and largest democracies go to the polls this year. That’s the US and India, respectively, for the uninitiated. India arguably has the tougher task every five years to get nearly a billion people to vote.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) recently revealed the dates for polling and counting. The upcoming Lok Sabha elections will take place over seven phases spanning over a month. 44 days, to be exact. That’s a long schedule. Does the process need to be this long, or should it be much shorter? Would the latter be feasible?


Here’s a fun fact – the upcoming elections will be the second-longest after the first parliamentary elections in 1951-52, which lasted over four months. If we’re going to compare it to the US, for example, there are a few things to keep in mind.

The US Presidential elections are a completely different beast. That’s to say nothing of the fact that the US doesn’t have a parliamentary style of government. The head of state is the President elected by an electoral college, which itself has repeatedly come under scrutiny. Anyway, what’s gruelling there isn’t the polling but the campaigning. Candidates sometimes declare almost two years before people vote.

The actual polling itself takes place on a single day. Actually, that’s not entirely true. People have the option to vote early and through the mail before voting day.

Back home, whenever India goes to vote in the Lok Sabha elections, it’s always the world’s largest democratic exercise. Estimates put the number of registered voters at about 970 million. Talk of the country’s long-drawn-out election process isn’t new.

Between 1962 and 1989, elections were completed in between four and ten days. 1980 was the shortest when they were conducted in just four days. Critics have argued that these elections were marred by repeated incidents of violence and ballot stuffing. Security was a big issue that needed fixing.

In the 1990s, under new election chief TN Seshan, parliamentary forces were needed to keep violence in check. The Supreme Court even asked the government to ensure adequate security forces were available. Now, it’s routine for over one lakh police forces to be deployed across the voting days.

On a related note, one topic that has come up repeatedly in recent years is the concept of simultaneous elections. A recent report under former President Ramnath Kovind was submitted to current President Droupadi Murmu on this very issue. If that’s to happen, which isn’t a guarantee, there needs to be a consensus on the integrity of the ECI, which there isn’t. The ECI has been criticised by opposition parties for favouring the BJP. Needless to say, the premier election body being in the partisan crosshairs isn’t a good look.

So, we’ve got 44 days of election coverage ahead, culminating on counting day on June 4. Does the process need to be this long, or are we not just thinking hard enough about this?

VIEW: Needs to be made shorter

The case for a shorter election timeframe is needing fewer resources. It’s what BSP Chief Mayawati stated after the ECI announced the dates for the upcoming elections. She’s got a point. A shorter polling cycle would ensure less money is spent across the board. A party like the BSP and other regional ones don’t have the machinery that the BJP has. A long and drawn-out process only favours the big guns. They have big cadres and can scatter them across states simultaneously.

Even long campaign periods benefit bigger parties. That means there really isn’t a level playing field for all. Apart from campaigns, parties, and candidates’ spending, money is needed to actually run the entire machinery. A long polling period would only increase that expenditure. The model code of conduct imposes strict rules on the movement of cash. Wouldn’t it be easier for officials to keep this window short?

The argument of security and deploying security forces isn’t as valid now as it was in the past. Why not deploy state reserve police forces also? Nothing’s stopping the ECI from investing in better logistics across the board. India has come a long way in digital technology adoption across many sectors. Surely, the ECI can leverage some of that. Long polling periods aren’t in the interest of free and fair elections.

COUNTERVIEW: It’s necessary to keep everything in check

The ECI has done a relatively commendable job of holding elections in recent years, given the sheer number of voters on the rolls. Mobilising over 900 million people to the polls is no easy task. That’s more than the population of the European Union (EU). It’s certainly not something that can happen in a single day or week. Voter turnout is also quite high. The 2019 election had a 67% voter turnout.

The logistical aspects needed to ensure every eligible voter is taken care of are herculean. Polling in remote areas, especially in the northeast, is challenging. Getting personnel and equipment set up in these places takes time. In 2019, a team of polling officials travelled nearly 300 miles just so a single voter in a hamlet in the remote area of Arunachal Pradesh could exercise their right.

Security is arguably the number one reason why voting doesn’t happen over a shorter time period. Several states have large populations. The focus in some of them needs to be security. The travelling group of security personnel need time to get from place to place. If in West Bengal, for example, where poll violence is a persistent issue, things go haywire, it becomes easier to manage if everyone isn’t voting on a single day.

Reference Links:

  • India’s 2024 Lok Sabha election will be the second-longest in the country. Here’s why – Firstpost
  • Why is Lok Sabha voting such a long haul? – Deccan Herald
  • Unless Lok Sabha elections get shorter, parties like BJP will keep winning – The Print
  • Why India’s Next Election Will Last 44 Days – Time
  • Simultaneous Polls In 2029, Shorter Term for State Govts Elected After 2024: Kovind Panel Report Highlights – News18
  • Lok Sabha Polls: Does a seven phase election schedule really benefit the BJP? – Moneycontrol

What is your opinion on this?

a) Lok Sabha polling should have a shorter timeframe.

b) Lok Sabha polling shouldn’t have a shorter timeframe.


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