What were the major challenges of building democracy in India?
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 prosperous countries, mainly in Europe and North America, where nearly everyone was illiterate. 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. A British member of the Indian Civil Service claimed that ‘a future and more enlightened age will view with astonishment the absurd farce of recording the votes of millions of illiterate people’.
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 because 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. The Times of India held that the polls have “confounded all those sceptics who thought the introduction of adult franchise too risky an experiment in this country”. The Hindustan Times claimed that “there is universal agreement that the Indian people have conducted themselves admirably in the largest experiment in democratic elections in the history of the world”. Observers outside India were equally impressed. 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 practised anywhere in the world.
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