“In India, hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country. But in politics, hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and eventual dictatorship”, said Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar in his speech in Constituent Assembly on 25th November 1949.
The Constitution of India which came into effect on 25th January 1950 was ready after a marathon exercise that lasted for over two years and nine months. It was signed on 26th November 1949. During that period, India was ruled by an interim Government and it was then necessary to install the first democratically elected Government of the country as the Constitution had laid down the rules. The Election Commission of India was set up in January 1950 with Sukumar Sen as its first Chief Election Commissioner.
India’s first general elections were expected in 1950 itself. But it was then discovered that it was not an easy task to hold free and fair elections considering India’s size. As no elections on this scale were ever conducted, the Election Commission had to think of a special method by which the people could vote. Over three lakh officers and polling staff were trained by the commission to conduct these elections. The first general election was also the first big test of democracy in a poor and illiterate country as by then democracy had existed only in prosperous countries, mainly in Europe and North America, wherein most of the citizens were literate.
By that time many countries in Europe had not given voting rights to all women. In this context, universal adult franchise experiment was noteworthy and impressive. India’s general election of 1952 became a significant in the history of democracy all over the world. And with this, it was no longer possible to argue that democratic elections could not be held with some conditions prevalent like poverty or lack of education. It proved that democracy could be practiced anywhere in the world.
The Election Commission of India has come a long way since then. Today, it is one of the pillars of Indian democracy. In the past sixty years, it has acquitted itself exceptionally well in the onerous task of conducting elections to our Parliament and to the State Legislatures. The insistence on universal adult franchise was a tremendous act of faith on the part of the founding father of our Republic. The Election Commission lived up to the expectations and rose up to the challenge of conducting the biggest exercise of voting anywhere in the world. It has also been quick in keeping itself abreast to technological changes and in introducing improvements in the electoral process. Now Electoral rolls are computerized. A large proportion of our voters have voter identity cards, proceedings in sensitive polling booths are video-graphed, political parties have free time on national television. Ballot papers and ballot boxes have been replaced by electronic voting machines. Results are now declared in a day. Each of these changes was, in some sense, a breakthrough.
These improvements have contributed not only to the speedy conduct of elections but also to enhance the transparency and credibility of the whole electoral process.
As India celebrates the ‘National Voters Day-2011’ on 25th January 2011, one needs to ponder on some of the challenges that still lie ahead. There is a genuine concern that politics in our country is not attracting the best and the brightest among the people. It is also a matter of concern that educated professionals and the growing middle class people often shy away from participating in the electoral process. Many of them are not even willing to take the trouble to cast their vote. There is a general worry that people without sufficient means cannot contest elections. There is no easy answer to these questions. It is boundent duty of the citizens and voters in particular to create an awakening in the country. Onus is also placed on the “new voter” who is young, educated and dynamic in thought to create the much needed spark in the society to improve the present situation in the country. The youth in India who nearly constitute half of the Indian population need to come together to arouse consciousness about the various facets of democracy in the country in a concerted manner to realize and fulfill the dreams of the father of our Constitution to herald a new participatory democracy to improve the quality of governance and to usher in a new era of prosperity and development. All the citizens need to vow and work tirelessly to realize the worth of democracy to make India an example of a vibrant and thriving nation to the world to emulate and follow on this momentum day for all the voters of our motherland.