It was about one and a half decade ago when the areas going to polls used to wear a festive look, walls and streets were covered with banners and posters of candidates and political leaders. Groups of political workers would visit every part of their respective constituencies canvassing for their party candidates. Those days it was an unimaginable idea that electioneering in India was possible without roaring sound of loudspeakers at every nook and corner, party offices full of festoons and party flags fluttering in the breeze all over the place. It was those days when voters used to mark the symbol of a candidate printed on a piece of paper called ‘ballot paper’ which has been replaced by EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines). But now all these stuffs have become a part of the history. Silence and decency of the candidates and their workers at the time of poll-campaigning, clean walls and streets and more importantly the EVMs in place of ballot papers are reining in the entire electioneering process nowadays.

The role of Election Commission was earlier confined to mere facilitating smooth functioning of the whole election process. Now in the changed scenario, the poll panel monitors almost every activity of the parties and their candidates and makes sure that normal functioning of life in any area, where elections are conducted, should not be disturbed. Growing proactiveness of the commission during over one and a half decade has changed the electioneering process in the country. The election process has reached to the stage when the trend and result of polling at the time of counting of votes has become a matter of a few hours. Before induction of the EVMs, the counting process used to take more than three days. The poll panel officials claim that even more changes are in pipeline.

Silent roads, deserted streets

Now there has become a sea change in the whole poll-campaigning process. High pitch of slogan of the party workers in the streets and the roaring sound of loudspeakers and mikes with poll-parody of popular songs are nowhere to be seen owing to the model code of conduct enforced by the commission. But now in changed condition, the candidates are taking unique methods for their campaigning. During last election, a candidate in Lucknow had got his appeal for votes printed on the rapper of bread to reach out to the voters. But such changes are largely apparent in the urban areas. In rural areas, local residents are still in the trouble due to the distressing methods of campaigning by the candidates. Observers and poll officials appointed by the commission to monitor the campaigning for various areas have reportedly received complaints like sticking of posters and graffiti on walls by the party workers without getting the permission of house-owners. SMSs and calls through mobile phones are other new means being practised by the voters. Social networking sites and blogs are the other methods being used by the parties and their workers to seek support of the electorates. But no doubt, such methods are unmatched to the previous methods of campaigning in generating poll-awareness.

Changed picture of polling stations

The substantial changes are apparent not only in the methods of poll-campaigning but also at the polling stations. The landmark change took place in 2004 General Elections when EVMs replaced the ballot papers. Now this time, webcams will be installed at the polling stations. Certainly, people will get a live coverage of the polling process. A voter can get the information about his polling station with mere a click at EC’s website or by mere sending an SMS. Now this time, the commission is facilitating door-to-door distribution of voters slip.

Credit goes to TN Seshan

A large-scale drive to check malpractices and rigging in polling process was started by the 10th Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), TN Seshan. Former Cabinet Secretary Seshan served as the CEC of India during December 12, 1990 to December 11, 1996. Growing influence of money and muscle power in almost every election since beginning was a major cause of concern for the poll panel and all the previous CECs found themselves helpless in dealing with the problem. It was for the first time in 1991 general election that the country realized the actual authority of the poll panel headed by TN Seshan. The contours of the model code of conduct devised by Seshan changed the face of the poll process in the country. The sapling of change planted by the commission during the tenure of Seshan is now yielding the desired result which the people of this country were craving to see since beginning. Reforms were carried forward by the other CECs too in the following years but poll rigging during elections in Bihar and West Bengal were still a gray matter. KJ Rao, an advisor to the Commission, was the second official who took up the responsibility to check the evil. In early 2005, prior to Assembly elections in Bihar, Rao visited almost all such areas of the state which witnessed bogus voting and bungling in voters’ list at the time of elections. He ensured free, fair and peaceful elections in the state which is now seen as a model for other parts of the country. He is also credited for weeding out bogus names from electoral lists in West Bengal.

More changes in pipeline

There are many proposals sent by the commission to the government for further reforms. But such proposals are yet to be cleared by the government.

•    Commission sent many proposals to the government to bar the politicians with criminal background from contesting elections. Such proposals are still pending with the government.

•    Commission’s proposal to allow it to cancel the registration of the parties guilty of bungling is yet to be cleared by the government.

•    A proposal, which is aimed at curbing the arousing religious sentiments of the voters by the parties for political gain, still awaits the government’s approval.

•    To curb the publication of paid news, the Commission has also proposed for an amendment to the Representation of People Act 1951 and a provision of two years imprisonment.

•    Commission has also proposed to declare the offences of its officials like being influenced by the agenda of parties and receiving bribes as non-bailable.

•    The commission has also proposed for punishment to the leaders who are found guilty of providing fake information in their affidavits at the time of submitting nomination papers for contesting elections.

•    The commission has also proposed for an option ‘none of these’ in the EVM or Ballot Paper for the voters.