The first General Election in India (1952) was a landmark event in the history of independent India. Discuss.
Independent India’s first polls under its brand new Constitution were spread over five months, between October 1951 and February 1952.
After India became independent on August 15, 1947, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru formed the first union cabinet with 15 members picked from a wide range of communities and some known detractors. Just before the first election, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee (industries minister under Nehru) broke away to set up the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, representing the Hindu right-wing. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar formed the Scheduled Caste Federation, later the Republican Party of India. Another high- profile Congress leader, J.B. (Acharya) Kriplani, founded the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party. Ram Manohar Lohia and J.P. Narayan, were the forces behind the Socialist Party.
The communists, having just abandoned an armed struggle in Telangana, too contested 49 seats. There was no tradition of a leader of the opposition then. The Congress secured four times as many votes as the closest opponent. The importance of this election was that democracy took a giant step forward. These elections were the biggest experiment in democracy anywhere in the world. The elections were held on the basis of universal adult franchise. All those who were twenty- one year of age or older had the right to vote. There were over 173 million voters, most of them poor, illiterate, and rural, and have had no experience of elections. The big question at the time was how would the people respond to this opportunity.
Many were doubtful that such an electorate would be able to exercise its right to vote in a politically mature and responsible manner. Some said that democratic elections were not suitable for a caste-ridden, multi-religious, illiterate and backward society like India’s and that only a benevolent dictatorship would be effective politically in such a society. The coming elections were described by some as ‘a leap in the dark’ and by others as ‘fantastic’ and as ‘an act of faith.
India’s electoral system was developed according to the directives of the Constitution. The Constitution made a provision for an Election Commission. It was to be headed by a Chief Election Commissioner, to conduct elections. It was to be independent of the executive or the parliament or the party in power.
There was a house-to-house survey to register the voters. With over 70 percent of the voters being illiterate, the candidates were to be identified by symbols, assigned to each major party and independent candidates, painted on the ballot-boxes (this was later changed to symbols on the ballot papers). The voters were to place the ballot papers in the box assigned to a particular candidate, and the ballot was secret. Over 224,000 polling booths, one for almost every 1000 voters, were constructed and equipped with over 21/2 million steel ballot-boxes, one box for every candidate. Nearly 620,000,000 ballot papers were printed. About a million officials supervised the conduct of the polls. Of the many candidates, whoever got the largest number of votes would be elected. It was not necessary for the winning candidate to have a majority.
In all, candidates of over fourteen national and sixty-three regional or local parties and a large number of independents contested 489 seats for the Lok Sabha and 3,283 seats for the state assemblies. Of these, 98 seats for the former and 669 for the latter were reserved for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. Nearly 17,500 candidates in all stood for the seats to the Lok Sabha and the state legislatures. Despite illiteracy and poverty the electorate in India has developed and become really mature as we can see today.