India being the largest democracy of the world, elections in India have been the largest electoral exercise in the world since the 1st general elections of 1952. The cultural, linguistic, religious and ethnic diversity of the country make this event more complex.
Time of Elections
Elections for the Lok Sabha and every state Legislative Assembly have to take place every five years, unless called earlier. The President can dissolve Lok Sabha and call a General Election before five years is up, if the Government can no longer command the confidence of the Lok Sabha, and if there is no alternative government available to take over.
Schedule of Elections
When the five-year limit is up, or the legislature has been dissolved and new elections have been called, the Election Commission puts into effect the machinery for holding an election.
The Constitution states that there can be no longer than six months between the last session of the dissolved Lok Sabha and the recalling of the new House, so elections have to be concluded before then.
The Commission normally announces the schedule of elections in a major press conference a few weeks before the formal process is set in motion. The Model Code of Conduct for guidance of candidates and political parties comes immediately into effect after such announcement.
The formal process for the elections starts with Notifications calling upon the electorate to elect Members of a House. As soon as Notifications are issued, candidates can start filing their nominations in the constituencies from where they wish to contest. These are scrutinised by the Returning Officer of the constituency concerned after the last date for the same is over after about a week. The validly nominated candidates can withdraw from the contest within two days from the date of scrutiny. Contesting candidates get at least two weeks for political campaign before the actual date of poll.
On account of the vast magnitude of operations and the massive size of the electorate, polling is held on a number of days for the national elections. A separate date for counting is fixed and the results declared for each constituency by the concerned Returning Officer.
The Commission compiles the complete list of members elected and issues an appropriate Notification for the due constitution of the House. With this, the process of elections is complete and the President, in case of the Lok Sabha, and the Governors of the concerned states, in case of State Assemblies, can then convene their respective houses.
Oath or Affirmation
It is necessary for a candidate to make and subscribe an oath or affirmation before an officer authorised by the Election Commission 9. For any particular election, the authorised persons are, principally, the Returning Officer and the Assistant Returning Officer for the constituency. In the case of a candidate confined in a prison or under preventive detention, the superintendent of the prison or commandant of the detention camp in which he is so confined or is under such detention is authorised to administer the oath. And in the case of a candidate confined to bed in a hospital or elsewhere owing to illness or any other cause, the medical superintendent in charge of the hospital or the medical practitioner attending on him is similarly authorised. If a candidate is outside India, the Indian Ambassador or High Commissioner or diplomatic consular authorised by him can also administer oath/affirmation. The candidate, in person, is required to make the oath or affirmation immediately after presenting his nomination papers and in any case not later than the day previous to the date of the scrutiny10.
The campaign is the period when the political parties put forward their candidates and arguments with which they hope to persuade people to vote for their candidates and parties. Candidates are given a week to put forward their nominations. These are scrutinised by the Returning Officers and if not found to be in order can be rejected after a summary hearing. Validly nominated candidates can withdraw within two days after nominations have been scrutinised. The official campaign lasts at least two weeks from the drawing up of the list of nominated candidates, and officially ends 48 hours before polling closes.
During the election campaign, the political parties and contesting candidates are expected to abide by a Model Code of Conduct evolved by the Election Commission on the basis of a consensus among political parties. The model code lays down broad guidelines as to how the political parties and candidates should conduct themselves during the election campaign. It is intended to maintain the election campaign on healthy lines, avoid clashes and conflicts between political parties or their supporters and to ensure peace and order during the campaign period and thereafter, until the results are declared. The model code also prescribes guidelines for the ruling party either at the Centre or in the state to ensure that a level field is maintained and that no cause is given for any complaint that the ruling party has used its official position for the purposes of its election campaign”
Some of the salient features of elections in India are: