Ambassador Ziegler hosts talk on Navin Chawla’s “Every Vote Counts”
A talk on “Every Vote Counts: the Story of India’s Elections”, authored by former Chief Election Commissioner of India, Shri Navin Chawla.
New Delhi, 9 April 2019
The Ambassador of France to India, Mr Alexandre Ziegler, today hosted a talk on “Every Vote Counts: the Story of India’s Elections”, authored by former Chief Election Commissioner of India, Shri Navin Chawla. The discussion was moderated by Dr Samuel Berthet, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Shiv Nadar University.
Address of H.E. Alexandre Ziegler, Ambassador of France to India
Ladies and gentlemen,
In two days, and for over a month, India will go to the polls. “India is the largest democracy in the world” is a hackneyed phrase. But as a Frenchman, as soon as the figures involved are mentioned, I find it dizzying: 90 crore registered voters, almost 2,500 registered parties, over 20 lakh EVMs, an electoral exercise spread over several weeks involving the deployment of security forces, bureaucrats, voting machines, and so on. I’ll not enumerate further, because you already know this as the Election Commission of India detailed it all on 10th March. Yes, at the heart of the Indian democratic life, lies this institution: the guarantor of the smooth conduct of elections, it is, along with the Supreme Court of India with which it shares certain competences, the most respected institution of the Indian Republic. A telling sign of this is that no General Election result announced by the ECI has ever been contested by any party.
Mr Navin Chawla is a prime witness of this fascinating exercise. Appointed Chief Election Commissioner during the 2009 General Elections, after having monitored regional elections in numerous key states, he provides an insider’s invaluable view in his book, “Every Vote Counts”: from the exact functioning of the Election Commission as well the challenges it faces. I will mention just a couple: how to ensure that parties abide by the Model Code of Conduct; how to ensure the smooth conduct of elections in sensitive areas like Jammu and Kashmir, or Naxal-hit areas of central Indian states.
Navin is a man of commitment, and narrates his vision of this democratic exercise: in 2009, when Electronic Voting Machines were still controversial, he was one of the biggest champions of their use, and recalls having had to cut short a stay in France to douse the controversy raging against it.
I see in “Every Vote Counts” a great tribute to the Election Commission of India, to these thousands of women and men – bureaucrats – who take time out of their daily jobs to actively work in every booth so that the elections are smoothly conducted. But through all this, I discern first and foremost a tribute to Indian democracy, described with the profound humanity that characterizes its author. Because, if Navin is a great public servant, he is first and foremost a great humanist, whose sincere commitment I admire. He has authored a gripping biography – which has been translated into French – of Mother Teresa, whom he had long known. Today he heads the Lepra India Trust, a foundation that provides quality education to children suffering from leprosy and has a remarkable outreach. I urge you all to pay a visit.
While I will never have the arrogance to claim I understand Indian politics, I can, nonetheless say, that thanks to my friend Navin, I have grasped some measure of its deep spirit.