Indian elections have always summed up the essence of our country. They have an infectious energy, are dramatic, festive, chaotic and loud, where people from all walks of life participate in the great Indian festival that’s democracy. More than anything, elections in India bring out a passion that drives its citizens to sit up and take note of where the country has reached.
Yet, despite 70 years of democracy, we hardly think about the struggle it took to conduct the kind of elections we do today. We fail to value the mind-boggling logistics that led to the organising of the country’s first ever election. Take a look at the photos and facts many of us don’t know about!
In March 1950, with Sukumar Sen appointed Chief Election Commissioner, India had 176 million Indians aged 21 or above, 85% of whom lacked elementary education. To get the voting process going, the Election Commission was faced with the gargantuan task of identifying each adult voter and register him/her. Since the technology that we have today was not present – organisers had to go door to door to manually register each voter.
After the voters were registered, a coordinated series of activities had to be undertaken to design party symbols. About 1874 candidates and 53 parties contested for the elections to fight for 489 seats.
The elections were held from Oct 15, 1951 – Feb 21, 1952, for an electorate of over 173 million (173,212,343). The first phase was held in the assembly constituencies of Chini and Pangi in Himachal Pradesh, before the onset of winter, while the final 68th phase was held in Uttar Pradesh.The last general election held in 2014 on the other hand, was carried out in 9 phases – a process deemed to be considered too long by most of the international media.
The 2014 general election saw a voter turnout of 66%. Putting that in perspective, the 45% mark in what can now be considered the toughest election to organise in Indian history was a spectacular number and a very promising start indeed!
The first general election had a total number of 1,874 candidates, including 533 independents. Each candidate was allotted a separate ballot box at polling booths. Since a majority of the population was illiterate, the boxes were in different colours, on which each candidate’s name and election symbol was labelled. A voter had to simply insert the ballot paper given into the ballot box of the candidate of their choice in the voting compartment.
As many as 196,084 polling stations were set up throughout the length and breadth of the country, of which 27,527 were exclusively reserved for women.
The 45% voter turnout wasn’t an easy number to achieve. One of the greatest challenges the Election Commissioner faced was getting women out to vote. Women in Northern India were reluctant to give their names to the officials preparing the electoral rolls. They were known as “Shyam’s mother” or “Ram’s wife”; so they had registered in that fashion.
Sen was outraged when he saw this and directed his officials to rectify the records. As a result, some 2.8 million women struck their names off of the list. Later, they were registered with their own names – a win not just for the Commission, but for equality and women’s rights too!
Since then, voter turnout among women has only increased. During India’s 2014 parliamentary general elections, 65.31% stepped out to vote. In 16 out of 29 states of India, more women voted than men. A total of 260.6 million women exercised their right to vote in April – May 2014 elections for India’s parliament!
Historically, India has always been a very patriotic community. People from far and wide have come to vote, irrespective of the challenges they faced, conquering age and various disabilities.
India is also a country that is inaccessible to people with disabilities. Despite this, as far back as 1951, people with disabilities were motivated to come and cast their vote. They used whatever means that were available to them, the most common being with the help of their relatives.
Today, the EC has made voting an easier process for people with disabilities by creating special mobile apps, stressing on the infrastructure, training for personnel and feedback mechanisms. However, the implementation of these still is a big challenge that has to be addressed.
Shyam Saran Negi was the first person to cast his vote in Independent India. He also featured in a popular advertisement recounting his experience as the first Indian who voted in the 1951 general elections and sent the message of pride in exercising one’s franchise.
Negi is also now the oldest person to take part in an election, at 98 years old. He has voted in every general election that took place and continues to motivate those around him to do so.
Clearly, the world’s largest democracy boasts of a rich voting history. Debates, curiosity and widespread reportage have made Indian elections an even more impressive spectacle. While the first election was a mammoth task to carry out, with every election the numbers are getting even bigger, and India continues to take inspiration and comes out to vote each time.
What the youth needs to remember now is how much it took for us to achieve democracy. They need to remember the fight, the logistical problems and most importantly – the passion.
With an unparalleled demographic, the youth in India hold the key to making 2019 India’s most successful general election. We need to revisit our history, realise the importance and value of our voting rights and responsibilities and teach other people the same. Being India’s biggest asset, and it is time for the youth to step out and #JetSetVote!