Universal adult franchise states that the right to vote should be given to all adult citizens without discrimination of class, caste, colour, religion or gender. “Franchise” is derived from the French word “franc” which means “free.” The long struggles in the history of the world for this right to vote has paved the path for the present privileges that we enjoy in choosing our representatives.
People exercise authority through the representatives elected by them. These representatives then work in accordance with the wishes of people. This helps people to govern themselves through a government elected by them, leading to the establishment of a democracy. It gives us, citizens, the right to choose and make an informed decision about who we want to represent us.
With the independence of India in 1947 and the preparation of the first draft of electoral roll on the basis of universal adult franchise, the country took its first step on the path of decolonisation. For India, who was ruled by Britishers for long, universal adult franchise was a strong step which required strong imagination and the will to execute. With this right onboard, India pushed through the boundaries of colonialism and gave birth to the largest democracy in the world.
Democracy, as defined by Abraham Lincoln, is a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” This reassures the superior power of voters in a democracy. If politicians believe that voters can be manipulated, it is against the actual spirit of democracy. For a democracy to function, it is essential that a government respects not only the voters but every person and provides them with every bit of information required. Universal adult franchise entitles the voters to a privilege of knowing everything in the functioning of a government.
The fulcrum of a successful democracy lies in equality of all citizens. Democracy operates on political, legal and moral equality of people. No citizen in a democracy can be classified as a second class citizen. To deny any person from their right to vote is to deny the fundamental right to equality. Universal adult franchise guarantees equality of opportunity to choose and vote.
Across the world, the right to vote was initially granted to privileged upper-class men but with protests and movements for equality, women fought for their rights and claimed their voting rights.
So, the sacrifices of several generations of women has led to the voting privileges of the coming generations which should be treated with responsibility. When India gained independence, we did not discriminate between gender. The right to vote was given to every adult citizen irrespective of race or gender or religion.
Universal adult franchise is one of the most crucial tools available with the general public to voice their opinions in a democratic republic. People not only get to choose their representatives but also hold almost all the power by being a majority in their decisions.
This power of opinion gives people the privilege of interacting with different political parties and their candidates and separating their propaganda from their policies.
“Free” elections under democracy allow all voters to decide whether to vote or not, freely for a candidate or party of their choice, without fear. “Fair” elections allow anyone to contest elections after being registered. Hence, all registered political parties have an equal right to contest election, campaign for voter support and hold meetings and rallies. The power to represent (and be represented) our country and our people is a privilege privy to a democracy.
I hope we will realize and value our privileges and make use of them in the most efficient manner possible for the upcoming 19th Lok Sabha elections.