Home Unbreak The News

Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Will the Elections Be Free and Fair?

Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Assessing the Integrity of India's Electoral Process Ahead of the 2024 General Elections.

By Prema Sridevi
New Update

"The daunting challenges in conducting free and fair elections are four-fold, the 4Ms: muscle, money, misinformation, and Model Code of Conduct (MCC) violations," said the Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar recently while addressing the media while revealing the dates of the Lok Sabha elections 2024. He also emphasised that all efforts will be made by the EC to deal with these disruptive challenges to ensure that the election is conducted in a free and fair manner, providing an equal level playing field for all stakeholders involved. However, the question remains: Will the 2024 elections in India be free and fair in light of the recent developments?

In the view of American political scientist Robert Alan Dahl, an election can be deemed free and fair when coercion is notably rare. According to this definition, which is widely accepted as a standard description of “free and fair elections” worldwide, much importance needs to be given to political freedoms and fair processes in the lead-up to voting, as well as ensuring a fair count of eligible voters who participate in the electoral process. This includes addressing issues such as electoral fraud and voter suppression. Moreover, the acceptance of election results by all parties is crucial in upholding the integrity of the electoral process, according to Dahl.

However, in India, the recent electoral bonds case unequivocally demonstrates the influence of money and muscle wielded by those in power to secure donations from companies to perpetuate their political agendas. Even before the partial disclosures by the State Bank of India (SBI) to the Election Commission of India (ECI), the media had consistently been reporting about how  BJP had secured the largest share of funding among all political parties through electoral bonds. However, post the disclosures, what is particularly interesting is the role regional political parties played as they amassed hundreds of crores of rupees from donors. Collectively, all these political parties made a mockery of democracy. 

The influence of money and muscle power is evident in the funding patterns of many of these political parties, where the timing and nature of many of these donations suggest coercion being exerted on the donors. It's plausible that some companies were subjected to undue pressure, including blackmail, threats, and intimidation, leading them to make donations to political parties against their will.

In the electoral bonds case, it appears that the majority of the media, industry bodies, political parties, and top-notch companies are aligned on one side, while on the opposite end of the spectrum stands the disenfranchised voter - the taxpayer - whose authority has been undermined by those in power. Mainstream media, particularly television, has played an egregious role, seemingly relinquishing their integrity to align with those in power. The manner in which prominent industry bodies such as Assocham, FICCI, and CII attempted to intervene in Supreme Court proceedings to oppose pleas for disclosure of the invisible alphanumeric numbers on electoral bonds once again shows the formidable alignment of political power, money, corporate interests, and media against the rights of citizens.

The narrative of muscle power extends beyond the realm of political party funding to a larger issue - the decaying of institutional autonomy. "Look how the SBI has been conducting itself. The SBI had to be persuaded at every stage to share information. If you see the sequence of events in the Electoral Bonds case, we saw the very unsavoury spectacle of how the SBI’s lawyer was trashed by the Supreme Court in a manner that we have not seen in the recent past. It clearly shows how much pressure has been exerted on the SBI to not reveal the information and delay it as much as it can, at least until the elections are over," said Sanjay Kapoor, senior journalist and Editor of Hardnews magazine, in an interview with me. 

Drawing from his extensive experience covering elections, Kapoor recounts a troubling incident of witnessing electoral malpractice firsthand at a polling booth in Haryana. He recalls being physically removed from the premises after observing ballot stuffing by a political party. Voicing concerns regarding the forthcoming seven-phased election, he says there is a far greater likelihood of widespread electoral malpractice when the Lok Sabha elections 2024 is staggered in multiple phases. 

"BJP has the maximum resources. So, it is possible for them to conduct their elections better than the opposition, which has far fewer resources. Therefore, it serves the interests of the ruling party to have an election staggered in seven phases. Who will monitor the movement of the EVMs from one location to another? Who will provide security for all the EVMs over such an extended period until the final date of counting? These are all crucial questions that need to be addressed," remarks Kapoor. There have also been a lot of misgivings regarding the EVMs and their misuse. However, recently, the Supreme Court dismissed petitions that alleged irregularities in their functioning. 

It is noteworthy that in 2023, Professor Sabyasachi Das of Ashoka University resigned amidst a political controversy surrounding one of his research papers titled "Democratic Backsliding in the World’s Largest Democracy." His paper identified and analysed an electoral anomaly observed during the 2019 general elections in India. The incumbent party won disproportionately more seats than it lost in closely contested constituencies. To investigate whether this was a result of electoral manipulation or effective campaigning by the ruling party, the researcher employed regression discontinuity design and other methodologies on several distinct datasets to examine endogenous sorting of closely contested election constituencies across the win margin threshold. The result suggested a pattern that pointed towards electoral manipulation rather than the effective campaigning theory. The matter was brushed under the carpet by a large section of the media. 

While 2019 is now history, the question of whether the Lok Sabha elections 2024 be free and fair still remains uncertain. However, what we know so far is that political parties are preparing for campaigning with much of the funds received from donors, some of whom may have contributed willingly in anticipation of favours, while others may have been coerced under threat. A large part of this money will be deployed to sway votes from the citizens. What we also know is, despite the scorching summer sun, millions of voters across India will venture out to exercise their right to vote. As we endure the heat while queuing to cast our ballots, our collective hope is that every citizen making their choice is well-informed. Even if just for a brief period on this polling day, the future of our democracy will be in our hands.