Democracy doesn’t get much simpler than one person, one vote. But what happens when that one person is a hermit living alone in a jungle temple surrounded by lions, leopards, and cobras, miles from the nearest town?
In India, the election comes to him.
Bharatdas Darshandas, the lone inhabitant and caretaker of a Hindu temple deep in the Gir Forest, has become a symbol of India’s herculean effort to ensure that the votes of every one of its 900 million eligible voters are counted. Voting began Thursday in the world’s largest — and arguably most colorful — democracy and a team of five election workers will trek to Darshandas’ temple and set up a polling station solely for his use.
“It is an honor, it really is,” Darshandas told reporters after a general election in 2009. “It proves how India values its democracy.”
The world’s largest democratic election, ever
Those values are being put to the ultimate test with the largest democratic election in history.
In seven phases over 39 days, as many as 900 million people will casts ballots nationwide at 1 million polling stations, spread across densely populated megacities and far-flung villages. Each phase lasts a single day, with the date varying by location.
It is a feat of gargantuan proportions, requiring 12 million polling officials and cutting-edge technology. But just getting to the voters — some of whom live among the world’s tallest mountains, its densest jungles, and sweltering deserts — presents its own set of challenges.
To provide ballots to voters in the most remote areas, the politically independent Election Commission of India will deploy 700 special trains, as well as boats, planes and teams of camels and elephants.
“There are mountains which can be reached only by helicopter,” said SY Quraishi, author of “An Undocumented Wonder: The Great Indian Election” and the country’s former chief election commissioner, who listed the many means poll workers use to get out the vote. “In fact, there are many areas so remote where none of these will work, then parties have to walk for three days.”
Among those remote locales is the country’s highest polling place — 15,256 feet above sea level — found in a village in the Spiti Valley of the Himalayas, where just 48 voters live.
Election officials have to not only account for the most isolated voters but also provide efficient systems for voters in the country’s teeming cities. The busiest polling stations will see as many as 12,000 people arrive to cast votes.
With a population of 1.34 billion people, India is set to overtake China as the world’s most populous country sometime before the next general election, scheduled for 2024. Its electorate is four times the size of the United States, meaning more than 10% of the world’s population is eligible to vote in this year’s poll.