Tuesday 6 March 2012. A proactive Election Commission of India has truly made a breakthrough in the just held elections to
five state Assemblies. Each of the five states — Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur — has seen its highest
voter turnout ever. This has been achieved through painstaking voter awareness programmes conducted by the ECI, and the
poll body making elaborate arrangements to ensure voter security. It is no mean achievement that in a very large state like UP, where competition among political parties is known to be fierce
and has acquired unwholesome dimensions in the past, there was not a single case of serious violence in any of the seven
phases of polling. This tells us something about the extent of water-tight preparations. The story was more or less the same
in the other four states.
While the EC richly deserves the kudos that will come its way, the people of these states are to be congratulated as well. The
extraordinarily high poll percentage — in Goa it touched 81 per cent, and in Punjab, a much larger state, 70 per cent votes
were cast — signifies a massive expansion of the democratic space. This has permitted many more people than hitherto to
come out and have their say. It bears underlining that people have cast their ballots in favour of whoever they liked, and
were not coerced into staying home or voting for a particular party or candidate. These were routine problems not so long
ago, especially in a state like UP.
About two crore voters exercised their franchise for the first time in UP. Not all were youngsters who had just reached voting
age. Very large numbers of people had not found their names on the election rolls in the past. This lacuna was filled by the EC
this time round. This is indeed an achievement. It enabled women to come out in significant numbers.
Factors such as these have put punters in a tight spot and left analysts stuck for answers. The socio-political path the voting
states would follow, and the kind of impact polling patterns are likely to have on policy and governance in those states,
cannot be second-guessed. Nor can be predicted the impact of voting by such stupendously large numbers on politics at the
Centre. But it is undeniable that we have witnessed the enlargement of political democracy in India. Although it is
appropriately said that economic democracy has lagged far behind and must be the next hill to climb if we are to make any
sense of our brand of democracy, it is heartening that people have taken the trouble to walk to the polling booth when
conditions were created for them to do so.