Elections are the fundamental essentials of democracy. Democracy, that is, the rule of the people, is a system of government in which people run the government through their elected representatives. The people not only choose their leaders but also control them by making them go through regular and periodic elections. Election constitutes a fundamental feature of the Indian Constitution. There are three types of elections in India, namely, Lok Sabha or General Elections, Rajya Sabha and State Assembly Elections.
The Election Commission of India, an autonomous constitutional body, formed on 25th January 1950, administers the election process in India. This body operates under the Constitution as per Article 324. It has been solemnly dedicated to making elections in India free and fair. It has been quite successful in changing the procedure by bringing in new technology like EVMs, VVPATs, cVIGIL, EPIC and more.
While the Election Commission has been trying its best to achieve its goals, India being a diverse country still continues to face several challenges in its election procedure. Also, the cultural, social, political, ethical, religious and linguistic disparities make the process complex. It is thus important to analyse, study and evaluate the elections, the challenges faced by the people and government while considering the advancements made in its procedure.
Early Elections in India
Elections were introduced in India by the Britishers under the Indian Council Act, 1892 and the first General Election took place in 1920. After Independence of India in 1947, the first General Elections in India were held from 25th October 1951 to 21st February 1952. The Indian National Congress won the elections by securing 364 votes out of 489 seats, and On May 2, 1952, Rajendra Prasad won the Presidential election with 507,400 votes.
The procedure of election in India
India has its own established procedure and laws for elections. The rules of the election are given by the Representation of the People Act, 1950. The Act provides for (1) the allotment of seats and constituencies and (2) qualification, criteria or removal of the members and candidates contesting for elections for both the Houses of Parliament as well as the State Legislative Council. The Act also provides for the corruption and malpractices carried out during elections, while also resolving disputes arising out of such actions.
The necessary procedures of elections are:-
- Formation or reformation of constituencies for Lok Sabha and Legislative Assembly based on the census.
- Filing for nomination as a candidate for Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha. These are given to the Returning Officer. The minimum age to contest elections for Rajya Sabha is 30 years while for Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assembly it is 25 years. A person is not eligible for contesting elections if he is not a citizen of India, if he has an unsound mind, if he holds any office of profit or if the law disqualifies him.
- Filing of nominations which are processed by the Reporting Officer. The candidates eligible to contest elections are supposed to give money as a security deposit. For Lok Sabha, 25,000 rupees have to be submitted, and for State Assembly, it is 10,000 Rupees.
- Election Campaigns by the candidates who create manifestos which highlight the issues and the objectives of the candidate or the party they represent. These are propagated through meetings or election campaigns. However, these are to stop 48 hours before the polling. It must also be noted that a report of the election expenditure has to be submitted. For the State Assembly, the limit is 6 lakh rupees, and for Lok Sabha, the expenditure is up to 70 lakh rupees. Exceeding these limits is considered to be a part of corrupt practices.
- Polling, supervised by various officers, in which people vote by choosing their candidate.
- Submission of votes to the counting office, where the votes are finally counted, and the result is declared.
- If there is any dispute regarding the elections, the High Court has been given the power to resolve it.
Malpractices and corruption in elections in India
Elections in many parts of the country have become associated with a lot of malpractices, corruption and other criminal activities. One such common activity is that of threatening the voters to vote in favour of a particular candidate or stopping them physically from going to vote. This happens mostly to the weaker sections of the society like tribals, Dalits and rural women. Corrupt practices in India also include money laundering or misuse of government power for other purposes, such as repression of political opponents and general police brutality.
Initiatives of ECI for 2019 Lok Sabha Elections
- EVMs having photos of all candidates– along with the name of the candidate, the name of the party and the symbol of the party, all the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Postal Ballot papers had the photographs of the electoral candidates. This was introduced to help the voters in identifying political leaders without any confusion.
- Introduction of VVPATs- In all polling booths, the voter-verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) was introduced for the first time in General Elections. They had been used before in Assembly Elections and Bypolls. The VVPATs are machines attached to EVMs, which show a slip of the candidate to whom the vote is cast. The slip has the name of the candidate and symbol of the party he or she belongs to. Hence, the VVPATs verify the vote and dispel any confusion.
- To address the complaints regarding the security of EVMs, the last mile transportation of these machines is now being tracked through GPS installed in them.
- Launch of cVIGIL- The Election Commission launched a new Vigilant Citizen app – cVIGIL, for all the citizens across the country to help them report any violation of code of conduct. The app combines live photos with location, making it more reliable.
- Careful watch on the campaigning done online- The Election Commission stated that it should monitor online campaigns. While filing nominations, all electoral candidates were required to give their social media accounts to the Commission as part of their affidavit. Even the political advertisements were required to be pre-certified from the Media Certification and Monitoring Committees (MCMCs), at the district and state levels.
- Carrying identity cards with voter slip- the Election Commission had announced that along with the photo voter slip the voters needed to carry any of the 12 identity cards to the polling station – Electoral Photo Identity Card (EPIC), Passport, Aadhaar Card, Driving Licence, PAN Card, Service Identity Cards with photographs, or smart card issued by the Registrar General of India under National Population Register. Other approved documents are MNREGA job card, health insurance smart card issued under the scheme of Ministry of Labour, pension document with a photograph and official identity cards issued to MPs, MLAs and MLCs.
- Voter Helpline– the Election Commission has strengthened its Voter Helpline to help citizens get authentic information related to their registration and information of the polling station where they have to cast a vote.
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Challenges still faced achieving free and fair elections
A few of the challenges faced to maintain free and fair elections in India are-
- Candidates or parties with a lot of money have an unfair advantage over smaller parties and independent candidates, as they tend to spend more, thus having better facilities for the campaign.
- Candidates with strong criminal or political connections easily secure a ‘ticket’ from major parties.
- Sometimes tickets are distributed among the relatives of strong political families, securing most of the votes in the candidate or party’s favour.
- Many times citizens have little choice. This may be because both the major parties have similar policies or political practices.
- Due to poverty or illiteracy, people are unaware of the right to vote and the importance of choosing their own leader. The basic attitude of the population fails to see the election as an important aspect of a democratic government, and thus, they waste their vote or right. Educating them and changing their minds seems another taboo which needs to be addressed and be done with.
Elections in India are complex and dynamic. The election process in India has evolved and seems to be changing with various reforms and initiatives made by the Election Commission. Most of the challenges arise due to large population, cultural diversity, poverty and illiteracy in India.
For ensuring free and fair elections, it is important for the citizens to be aware of their essential right to vote. They should realise the duty that comes with it and not give votes under force, undue influence or sympathy. If anyone is trying to bribe them or use force on them, they should report to the concerned authorities or use the cVIGIL app launched by the Election Commission of India. The voters should gather sufficient information about the candidates, contesting parties and be sure of whom they want to vote for.
The face of the election has changed a lot in recent years, with more and more people showing up to vote. This year the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, saw the maximum number of voters. Out of 900 million people who were eligible to vote, 67 per cent of people voted. The increase in number in a way marks the success and changing attitude in people towards the elections in India.
India has faced and continues to face various problems due to several factors. Yet, the elections in India are growing towards a more free and fair procedure.
- Election Commission of India, Report on the First General Elections in India, 1951-52, (2018).
- Election Commission of India, Manual on Model Code of Conduct, (2019), (Sept. 10, 2019 9:00 PM) https://eci.gov.in/files/file/9375-manual-on-model-code-of-conduct/
- Alia Chughtai, Saif Khalid, India elections: All you need to know, ALJAZEERA (Sept 5, 2014, 5:30 PM) https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2019/04/indian-elections-190410185739389.html
- Election Commission of India, The Functions (Electoral System of India), (Sept. 20, 2019, 7:00 PM) https://eci.gov.in/about/about-eci/the-functions-electoral-system-of-india-r2/
- Gayatri Sunkad, The Election System in India, Journal of Political Sciences & Public Affairs (2019)