Static – Modern History (Post-Independence) – Challenges of Building Democracy | Focus – Mains

Notes for Modern History (Post-Independence)

First General Elections

  • The Constitution was adopted on 26 November 1949 and signed on 24 January 1950 and it came into effect on 26 January 1950. At that time the country was being ruled by an interim government.
  • It was now necessary to install the first democratically elected government of the country.
  • The Election Commission of India was set up in January 1950. Sukumar Sen became the first Chief Election Commissioner.
  • The country’s first general elections were expected sometime in 1950 itself. But the Election Commission discovered that it was not going to be easy to hold a free and fair election in a country of India’s size.
  • Holding an election required delimitation or drawing the boundaries of the electoral constituencies. It also required preparing the electoral rolls, or the list of all the citizens eligible to vote. Both these tasks took a lot of time.
  • Preparing for the first general election was a mammoth exercise. No election on this scale had ever been conducted in the world before.
  • At that time there were 17 crore eligible voters. Only 15 per cent of these eligible voters were literate. Therefore the Election Commission had to think of some special method of voting. The Election Commission trained over 3 lakh officers and polling staff to conduct the elections.
  • It was not just the size of the country and the electorate that made this election unusual. The first general election was also the first big test of democracy in a poor and illiterate country. Till then democracy had existed only in the prosperous countries.
  • By that time many countries in Europe had not given voting rights to all women. In this context India’s experiment with universal adult franchise appeared very bold and risky.
  • The elections had to be postponed twice and finally held from October 1951 to February 1952. But this election is referred to as the 1952 election since most parts of the country voted in January 1952.
  • It took six months for the campaigning, polling and counting to be completed.
  • Elections were competitive – there were on an average more than four candidates for each seat. The level of participation was encouraging — more than half the eligible voters turned out to vote on the day of elections. When the results were declared these were accepted as fair even by the losers.
  • The Indian experiment had proved the critics wrong. India’s general election of 1952 became a landmark in the history of democracy all over the world. It was no longer possible to argue that democratic elections could not be held in conditions of poverty or lack of education. It proved that democracy could be practiced anywhere in the world.