India Election Diary 2014: Himalayan Polls Inspire Senior Electoral Officers from the Global South

Delegates from eight countries of the League of Arab Nations, Bhutan, Kenya, Myanmar and Uganda interacted with Election Officials from Himachal Pradesh, the district administration and local voters to better understand how India’s mountain state is preparing to secure the votes of 4.8 million people.

By Women’s Feature Service 

Highlights

  • Delegates from eight countries of the League of Arab Nations, Bhutan, Kenya, Myanmar and Uganda interacted with Election Officials from Himachal Pradesh, the district administration and local voters to better understand how India’s mountain state is preparing to secure the votes of 4.8 million people.
  • Over 7,000 polling stations had been set up, over 100 of which were located above 10,000 feet.
  • The foreign delegation keenly observed the demonstration of a web application to learn how an eligible voter could log on to to view his/her voting details and the location of the booth
  • In a state known for a consistently high female voter participation – in the 2009 Lok Sabha election 59.1 per cent women voted as compared to 57.8 per cent men – women turned up in large numbers to exercise their franchise this time as well.

09 May 2014, Shimla - Shimla is marking its 150th anniversary as the summer capital of British India. Known as the ‘Queen of the Hills’, it went to the polls on May 7, 2014, during the eighth phase of India’s 16th General Election. To witness this exercise first hand was a delegation of 16 senior electoral officers from 12 countries. The visit, organized by the Election Commission of India and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), was aimed at showcasing India’s expertise in electoral management.

Delegates from eight countries of the League of Arab Nations, Bhutan, Kenya, Myanmar and Uganda interacted with Election Officials from Himachal Pradesh, the district administration and local voters to better understand how India’s mountain state is preparing to secure the votes of 4.8 million people.

Two aspects emerged as especially significant. One, the efforts taken by the Election Commission to move material and personnel to the remote, snow-bound reaches of the state, even if it was only to enable a few people to vote. Over 7,000 polling stations had been set up, over 100 of which were located above 10,000 feet. A second area of interest was the efficient use of mobile telephony, the Internet and IT applications to manage the electoral process and to disperse relevant election information to the general public. The live webcast of the polls and the real time monitoring of activities in polling booths through the Poll Day Management System, were particularly noted.

Handling the electoral logistics in terrains as difficult as the remote districts of Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur, high up in the Himalayas, is of course full of hurdles but a well-established drill helped the process greatly. Explains Narinder Chauhan, Chief Electoral Officer of Himachal Pradesh, “Every citizen, irrespective of where s/he lived, has a right to be a part of the democratic process. To ensure this, polling parties were sent off to the high altitude areas a couple of days in advance of polling day so that they could get acclimatized to the prevailing conditions.” For instance, for Bara Bhangal in Kangra, the state’s most remote polling station, which caters to only 33 voters, an Indian Air Force helicopter flew in the polling officials. Similarly, at Hikkam in Lahaul-Spiti – the world's highest polling station situated at an altitude of 14,567 ft – 333 voters were assured of their right to exercise their franchise.  

The other success story was the effective use of information technology. The foreign delegation keenly observed the demonstration of a web application to learn how an eligible voter could log on to http://hp.gov.in/electionsearch/Search.aspx to view his/her voting details and the location of the booth, by simply keying in their name or election identity card serial number. 

Observed Sam Rwakoojo, Secretary, The Electoral Commission, Uganda, “Clearly, the use of communications technology can improve the election process by making it quicker and more verifiable.”

Sangay Dorji, District Electoral Officer, Election Commission, Bhutan, was impressed by the live webcasts. “What I would like to see happening in my country are such live webcasts. They would not just encourage popular interest, but map what is happening on the ground,” he said.

All the delegates were struck by the heavy turnout of voters. In a state known for a consistently high female voter participation – in the 2009 Lok Sabha election 59.1 per cent women voted as compared to 57.8 per cent men – women turned up in large numbers to exercise their franchise this time as well.

In Baldeyan, a small hamlet about an hour’s drive from Shimla, women dominated the long line at the polling booth. Meena Sharma, 58, was the first to arrive. She came despite the fact that she was in mourning, having just lost her father. Revealed Santosh Devi, 75, who came with her daughter-in-law, Kamlesh, “I have been coming to vote for many decades now. If the nation has to progress, it is the duty of ordinary people to choose good leaders.” Speaking for the politically aware women of Himachal Pradesh, Hemlata Verma, 26, a research associate at the Directorate of Wheat Research, said, “We are literate and know our rights.”

Each of these women knew what they wanted from their elected representative and that was a major reason for their enthusiastic participation. While job creation figured high on young Verma’s wishlist, Sharma wanted greater road connectivity, a fully functioning public health centre and better availability of water. 

The fervor with which Shimla’s voters discharged their democratic duty did not go unnoticed by the foreign delegates. Remarked Sam Rwakoojo, “The efforts women here made to cast their vote were clearly visible. I was particularly happy to see many elderly women in the queue. This is an extremely mountainous region, so for them to take the trouble to vote is special.”

Added Abdullahi Sharawe, Commissioner, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, Kenya, “I think it is important for women to come out and vote in large numbers. Definitely more women vote here than in my country. It indicates their level of empowerment and awareness and makes them a stakeholder in government formation.”

Projects and Initiaves
Supporting Democratic Electoral Management (September 2013 - December 2017)

The project aims to promote the exchange of knowledge and experiences in the field of election management and administration with other developing countries through the Election Commission of India.

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