The Election Commission obviously feels compelled to hold multi-phase elections in large states like UP owing to law and order as well as logistical issues, but it really isn’t good for obtaining a proper electoral verdict. There is absolutely no doubt that voter behaviour is affected in later phases by the pattern of voting perceived to have taken place earlier. This increases the level of desperation in the political parties, which then up the stakes and lower the quality of campaigning. Some of it, of course, acquires bizarre, even comical characteristics, such as ‘insulting the cycle is an insult to the nation’ or ‘anti-children’. At the same time, it also acquires violent dimensions over polarising subjects that would in normal times not attract much attention – such as the ongoing hijab debate.
The situation also proves detrimental to the cause of smaller parties. In the present case, had the election in UP taken place on one day, the Congress and BSP would have made a better showing. However, with the increasing polarisation of society along BJP-SP lines, it will eventually be seen that the vote share of these two parties will have consistently declined in later phases. This obviously is not good for democracy as the assembly should properly reflect the diversity of political opinion for better functioning. The expectations are that the BJP and SP will split the seats between them because of this phenomenon.
In contrast, the results in Punjab and Goa are going to be more interesting and representative. In Punjab, particularly, differing ideologies will, very probably, have to work on alliances in the effort to form a government. Some consensus will be required to keep the House functional and varied interest groups will contend with each other for dominance. Effective functioning will prevail rather than mere emotional election time rhetoric. If they fail to meet the challenge, fresh elections may be called.
This is all a part of Indian democracy evolving to suit its particular requirements, but it is also important for the right lessons to be learned so that more impartial and less volatile elections can take place in the future.