EC holds series of meetings with each and every group slated to be involved in the process — from political parties, bureaucrats to law enforcement agencies
The requirements of central and state police forces, their availability, schedules of school examinations have to be taken into account
Every five years or so as India, one of the largest democracies in the world undertakes the mammoth exercise called general elections, the world looks on with admiration and envy in equal measure. Termed as the largest and the longest celebration of democracy, Indian election, as the Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla pointed out recently, is the largest ‘event management’ in the world. As head of the Election Commission (EC), the quasi judicial body that undertakes the enormous task, he was surely not playing to the gallery and had facts to support his statement. Consider the mind-boggling statistics: In this general elections 714 million strong electorate in 35 states and union territories went to poll in 828,000 polling stations, using 1.37 million Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs); also 5.5 million polling officials and 2.1 million security personnel were deployed. The numbers are staggering and the exercise breath taking.
The way the EC goes about the job of conducting election, it is a great example of efficient management of manpower and material, says Rajesh Malhotra, the Information Officer of the EC.
So as a body that claims to conduct the largest event management of the world, can EC hold a mirror to the corporate world? Before we attempt to answer this question, it is imperative to describe the way EC goes about conducting the elections.
The preparation starts months before the elections. EC holds series of meetings with each and every group slated to be involved in the process — from political parties, bureaucrats to law enforcement agencies. The requirements of central and state police forces, their availability, schedules of school examinations, particularly the Central and State Board examinations (to avoid holding elections during examination period) have to be taken into account. In addition, various holidays and festivals during the months of April and May (that is when the general elections were conducted this year), harvest season in certain parts of the country and the inputs taken from the India Meteorological Department in respect of coming monsoon are also taken into considerations.
Once all these factors are dealt with, the Election Commission announces the dates of election, which is usually in five to six phases spread over a month.
With dates announced, the EC with its 5.5 million polling officials gets to the task ahead with meticulous planning. Every state and union territory gets its CEO (Chief Electorate Officer), very much on the lines of a firm in the corporate world. The CEO delegates work to his DEOs (District Electorate Officer) who are the District Magistrates of the district. ‘Delegation is the keyword,’ says Rigzin Samphel, the District Magistrate of Bijnor, who, in his capacity as DM of the district, was appointed the District Electoral Officer (DEO). The administration has to pool in its best officers and delegate work. Different officers are made in charge of diverse aspects of election such as transportation, deployment, electoral revision, welfare of the polling staff etc. The DEO calls meeting of the officers every three days to monitor the progress.
The first challenge before a DEO is the electoral revision so that each and every person who is eligible to vote has his or her say in the election. For the electoral revision, block level officers are deployed. These officers go to each and every door under their jurisdiction with form 6, form 7 and form 8 which are meant for addition, deletion and correction respectively. “We have to make sure that electoral rolls are revised, deleting those who are no more or untraceable and adding those who have just crossed the voting age,” said a DEO, who did not want to be quoted.
The greatest challenge for the DEO is handling of the logistics, that is, the movement and deployment of the officials. In Bijnor, some 1,000 vehicles including buses, jeeps, metadoor were hired to transport around 10,000 staff a day in advance to the polling stations. “Multiply the number of vehicles and the staff with 585 districts in the country and you will know what we call logistics nightmare,” said a senior polling officer.
Training the polling staff in use of the EVM is another challenge. Most of the staff is not acquainted with the use of the technology. Therefore much before the elections, those who are deployed for the first time are trained in the use of the machine.
A peaceful election being the top priority EC takes care to provide security to all the sensitive polling stations. There is something called vulnerability mapping under which the EC charts out the number of vulnerable polling station in every district, taking into account its past history, presence of miscreants etc. Once a figure of sensitive polling stations is drawn, extra security personnel are allocated. These stations are guarded by paramilitary forces in clusters and fly squads.
Following the polling of votes, the counting of votes requires another round of meticulous planning.
Also like any CEO (Chief Executive Officer) who is given free hand to use his own ideas and innovations for the success of his company, the Chief Electoral Officer too is at liberty to use his vision for larger voters’ participation and peaceful voting. For example Gujarat’s Chief Electoral Officer Anita Karwal, a 1988 batch IAS officer, introduced a small software in the camera-phones of the staff on poll duty across 47 most sensitive booths. This was done to stream live footage from the ground. This 'GPRS Enabled Monitoring System' showed the sole incident of violence in the polls live. Another example of a CEO charting a new course was Andhra Pradesh’s Chief Electoral Officer, I.V. Subba Rao. Subba Rao’s idea to rope in the postal department to register new voters proved so successful that 1.9 lakh people were enfranchised. “Although we carried out the project on a pilot basis in Hyderabad it was more economical to have the post office register new voters,’’ he said.
The EC has thus been conducting largely peaceful elections for many years. Does this ‘efficient management of manpower and material’ by the EC therefore make its model worth emulating by the corporate world?
“The way EC conducts the entire process, it is certainly inspiring. Having said that I do not think it can be a model for the corporate world, as it operates in a different setup and under different constraints,” says Sanjay Singh, Head HR, Whirlpool. The Election Commission has the entire government machinery at its disposal and that is used to conduct elections. The corporate world does not enjoy that luxury, therefore I think a comparison between the two are misplaced, feels Singh.
According to Yuvaraj Srivastava, HR, Director, Oberoi Hotels, EC’s conduct of the election is definitely praiseworthy. “The entire exercise, the magnitude of it, the way it is carried out in each and every part of the country, the coordination between the authorities, the security arrangement, is awe-inspiring,” said Srivastava. “I cannot say if it can be a model for the corporate world, however we can learn a lot from the entire exercise,” he added.
For Rajesh Rai, Director, HR, Benetton India, the EC’s model is worth emulating. “What we in the corporate world can learn from the EC is that whatever is the scale of operation, with the appropriate use of technology and change of mindset, it can be conducted successfully,” he said.
Despite all the accolades that the EC has been gathering, there are still some shortcomings that hold it back from becoming a model to be emulated. “Though we are a quasi judicial body with powers to disqualify a candidate from fighting election, in practice we cannot do so,” said a senior bureaucrat citing the example of Varun Gandhi the BJP leader, (he was accused of pouring vitriol on a particular community to attract votes) who despite violating model code of conduct fought for elections and won.
Then there are likely chances of election officials becoming the victim of the ire of a politician whose party loses seats under their jurisdictions. “After Mayawati’s BSP fared poorly in these elections, she vented her ire against all those officials under whose jurisdictions, her candidates lost,” says another senior IAS officer who was involved in the elections. There should be some mechanism in place that protects officers from such kind of retributive moves, he added.