Indian election statistics astonish British MPs


London : Members of the world’s oldest parliament have been hearing some mind-boggling facts and figures about the recent general elections in India – the world’s largest democratic exercise.

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India’s electorate of 714 million is larger than those of all of the 50 countries of Europe put together, all of Africa’s 54, North America’s 41, North and South America combined, and the entire Commonwealth minus India, Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi told a select audience Tuesday.

“We had 43 million more voters this time than the last elections – and that’s two Australian electorates put together,” said Quraishi, who drew spontaneous felicitations after reeling off the figures while briefing MPs, businesspeople and Indian-origin politicians at the British lower house Tuesday.

Quraishi’s briefing was timely.

India’s faith in the democratic process contrasts sharply with mounting disillusionment with mainstream politicians in Britain, which is in the midst of a major political scandal over MPs found to be making dubious financial claims at the expense of the taxpayer.

“This is possibly the most appropriate place to have a discussion like this� the mother of parliaments,” said India’s High Commissioner Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, introducing Quraishi to an audience that included host Virender Sharma, the Labour MP representing Southall, Baroness Shreela Flather of the Conservative Party and Peter Luff, chairman of the parliament’s business and enterprise committee.

Baroness Flather, congratulating the Election Commission for overcoming logistical challenges that are unimaginable in Britain, said: “Compared to India, the UK is like someone’s back garden.”

Quraishi said the EC could cut down the length of the Indian general election from the current five phases to a single day if it had enough security personnel.

“Whenever newspapers ask ‘can it be done better?’, they really mean ‘can it made shorter’?” Quraishi said.

“Sure. It can be done in one day if we have the security forces available,” the Indian official said, pointing out that “lack of trust” in local police meant the EC had to move around security personnel – either from central forces or state forces deployed elsewhere – which took time.

A vulnerability mapping, done for the first time in India, had shown that around 87,000 of India’s estimated 800,000 villages were vulnerable to caste, religious or Maoist violence.

The EC had to deploy 119 special trains to move around security personnel, who generally had only two weeks to establish ‘area domination’.

All constituencies that were vulnerable to Maoist violence were covered in the first phase of the poll in order to give security forces three weeks for preparation, Quraishi said.