It is true that Democracy is not just about elections. It requires a constitutional structure that maintains power balance, properly functioning autonomous institutions, free speech and other essential freedoms. However, it is also a fact that without elections and the power to change governments, all the rest ceases to matter. India’s strength in the seventy plus years as an independent nation has been free and fair elections, even in the worst of times. The other institutions such as the executive, judiciary, media, etc., have failed at one time or the other, but this has been compensated by the five year period of accountability for governments. Indeed, while other institutions have faltered, the Election Commission has only improved its performance by instituting reforms, enforcing regulations, anticipating challenges and exercising impartiality. This exercise of its authority was particularly strengthened under CEC TN Seshan and continued fearlessly with similar confidence and commitment by those that followed.
This issue is particularly significant in the context of the ongoing controversy in the United States over the manners of voting and the ‘suppression’ of votes. Around the world, many nations have regressed from a pretty decent beginning because governments found ways to sabotage the elections. Hong Kong, today, is just one example of how elections are rigged by disqualifying opponents, arresting dissenters, changing the rules, etc. All such kinds of issues were addressed early on in India, which are proving beneficial today.
If accountability for actions while in power had been left to India’s judicial system, for instance, one can only imagine what kind of governance there would have been. Cases of corruption against the powerful and the rich can continue on for decades without verdicts. In the meanwhile, they grow more powerful and entrenched, even more difficult to act against. It is only because they are forced to surrender political power that they are prevented from causing further damage to the nation.
One of the primary reasons that the once all powerful Congress is today on the garbage heap is because of the many cases of corruption against the top leadership. They continue to play a role within the party despite having become almost entirely discredited in the public sphere. This has prevented reform and the emergence of a new and cleaner leadership. Had there been fair and regular elections within the party, the situation would have been much better. It is by destroying this process that a democratic party has been turned into a family fiefdom. So, whatever might be said, it is by dutifully exercising one’s franchise that one can best protect India’s precious democracy.