India's multi-phase election will stretch over 44 days: Here's why it takes so long

AP , Monday 18 Mar 2024

From April 19 to June 1, nearly 970 million Indians — or over 10% of the global population — are eligible to vote in general elections. The mammoth exercise is the biggest anywhere in the world and will take 44 days before results are announced on June 4.

Election officials gather at a distribution center to receive electronic voting machines and other p
Election officials gather at a distribution center to receive electronic voting machines and other polling material on the eve of the fourth phase of polling for Uttar Pradesh state elections in Lucknow, India, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. AFP

 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking a third successive term. He will face off against a broad but flailing alliance of opposition parties that are struggling to challenge his appeal. Most surveys predict Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party will win comfortably, cementing him as one of the country’s most popular and consequential leaders.

WHY DOES IT TAKE SO LONG?
 

It boils down to two key reasons: the sheer size of India, the world’s most populous country, and the astonishing level of logistics needed to ensure that every registered voter can cast their ballot.

Over the years, the duration of voting has wavered. It took nearly four months to complete the vote in India’s first elections in 1951-1952 after it gained independence from British rule, and just four days in 1980. In 2019, voting took 39 days, and this year’s election is the second longest.

With 969 million registered voters, the size of India’s electorate is bigger than the combined population of the European Union.

The vote to choose 543 lawmakers to the lower house of Parliament takes place over seven phases. India’s 28 states and eight federal territories will vote at different times. Each phase is one day, with the first kicking off on April 19 and ending on June 1.

While some states will cast their ballots in a day, voting elsewhere may take longer. Uttar Pradesh, the largest state the size of Brazil with 200 million people, will vote on all seven days, for example.

EVERY VOTE COUNTS
 

The Election Commission of India, which oversees the vote, has to make sure there is a voting booth available within 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of every voter.

"Election officials have to travel to great lengths to ensure that even a single voter can exercise their franchise,” said Chakshu Roy of PRS Legislative Research, an independent think tank.

Some 15 million election officials and security staff will traverse the country’s deserts and mountains — sometimes by boat, foot, and even on horseback — to try to reach every voter.

It can be especially arduous. In 2019, when India last held elections, a team of polling officers trekked over 480 kilometers (300 miles) for four days just so a single voter in a hamlet in the remote state of Arunachal Pradesh, which borders China, could exercise their right.

Officials also traveled to a village tucked away high up in the Himalayas in 2019 to install a booth at 15,256 feet (4,650 meters), the highest polling station anywhere in the world.

This time too, polling stations will be installed in remote places, including one inside a wildlife sanctuary in southern Kerala state and another in a shipping container in western Gujarat state.

TIGHT SECURITY
 

Experts say a key reason behind the multi-phase elections in India is about security.

Tens of thousands of federal security forces, who usually guard borders, for instance, are freed up and deployed alongside state police to prevent violence and transport electoral officials and voting machines.

Deadly clashes involving supporters of rival political parties, particularly in the eastern state of West Bengal, had marred previous elections. But such violence has tapered over the years, thanks to heavy security, and voting has been relatively peaceful.

“Look at the geography of the country … there are rivers, mountains, snow, jungles … think of the security forces’ movements. They will have to travel through the length and breadth of the country,” Rajiv Kumar, the chief election commissioner, said on Saturday. “We will walk the extra mile so voters don’t have to.”

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